Why zero-net energy is the future of hotel profitability

The hotel of the future doesn’t come with a housekeeping robot like the Jetsons. The hotel of the future is actually a zero-net energy facility. And what if I told you that the future is now? 

Buildings account for nearly 40 percent of total energy consumption in the U.S. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, “…on average, America’s 47,000 hotels spend US$2,196 per available room each year on energy. This represents about 6% of all operating costs. Through a strategic approach to energy efficiency, a 10% reduction in energy consumption would have the same financial effect as increasing the ADR by US$0.62 in limited-service hotels and by US$1.35 in full-service hotels.”

For a 200-room, full-service hotel with a 60% average occupancy rate that achieves just a 10% reduction in energy would reap the equivalent to US$59,130 of revenue annually. That is the tip of the proverbial iceberg.    

What is a zero-net energy building? As defined by the U.S. Department of Energy,  a zero-net energy building is an energy-efficient building where, on a source energy basis, the actual annual delivered energy is less than or equal to the onsite renewable exported energy.

The hotel of the future can deliver the exact same experience to its customers at a lower cost or higher profit. Which is out of this world.

How? By building resilient hotels that are designed with zero-net energy in mind. It works best with a holistic approach, considering the entire building and site. Here are a few of my favorite examples:

  • Nature as service: Storm water capture, vegetation shading, green roofs
  • Infrastructure as amenity: photovoltaic trees, water filtrations as a design feature
  • Transportation: Bicycles, electric vehicle charging, location near mass-transit
  • Material and resource flows: supply chain; food, water, disposables, durable goods
  • Resiliency to future natural and man-made impacts
  • Sustainability as a guest experience: Energy management as guest environmental customization, health and wellness features, community engagement as authentic local experiences.

Some of the best resources come from peer networks like the 2030 Districts initiative, which supports major metropolitan areas in their sustainability endeavors through partnerships between public and private entities. There are also tools developed specifically for project teams in the buildings sector such as – the Seattle 2030 District provides small commercial buildings with tools, resources and services to implement basic energy (and water) efficiency upgrades as well as a project financing toolkit.

Some hotels are leading the way to a zero-net energy future. Boutique Hotel Stadthalle in Vienna, Austria uses renewable energy sources like solar and photovoltaic panels, ground water heat pumps, and three wind turbines. They water the lavender and roses and flush toilets exclusively with water from their well, and they provide two power stations for guests to recharge electric cars – free of charge.

The Brando Resort is carbon neutral through a combination of strategies including: Sea Water Air Conditioning (SWAC) harnesses the cold of the ocean depths to provide highly efficient cooling for all buildings, reducing energy demands by almost 70%; solar energy produced from photovoltaic solar panels along the airstrip address more than half of the resort’s remaining energy needs; solar heating provides all of the resort’s hot water; a coconut oil (biofuel) power station addresses the other half of the resort’s energy needs. Fueled by locally produced coconut oil, this renewable power source also supports the local economy.

Villa at The Brando Resort
Villa at The Brando Resort

Hotels are already achieving zero-net energy performance, in urban and remote resort locations. It isn’t a pipe dream – it is reality today. Don’t be intimidated by zero-net energy building – your competitors are already embracing it and reaping the benefits. There’s no need to wait when the future is now.