Energy costs have been an issue in the hotel and lodge industry for a while now and will probably remain an issue unless better sustainable innovation occurs. New innovations for hotel energy is changing all of this and the future may be now.
Hotel and Lodge Energy Use: A Look at the Past
Most energy used by hotels and lodges goes toward lighting, space heating/cooling and to heat hot water. It comes as no surprise that with rising energy costs, the hospitality industry has tried to reduce energy costs in a very predictable fashion by grabbing at the low hanging fruit.
In fact, for years hotels have reacted to rising energy costs with a slew of energy saving ideas including but not limited to:
- More efficient lighting.
- Technology to control when lights are on or off.
- More energy efficient equipment such as chillers and HVAC units.
- Better maintenance practices to ensure equipment is operating at optimal
In contrast, very few energy innovations have addressed the how hotels receive their energy. Yes there are hotels and lodges partially powered by solar, geothermal and wind energy but for the most part these types of facilities still remain few and far between.
In addition, alternative energy sources have geographical limitations and the technology process improvements for alternative energy are incremental with savings dependent on the how much standard power suppliers are charging. This has made trying new energy sources a risky gamble and more of an appeasement to the green movement.
The Science of Innovation
Fortunately, there seems to be hope on the horizon with a couple of technology breakthroughs that if used together could supply the power needed for heating water and maybe more for smaller hotel operations as well as well as provide the power backup in case the original source temporarily stops.
The first innovation is a spinoff of an invention first patented way back in 1816 by Robert Stirling. The innovation called the Beacon 10, by the Segway inventor Dean Kamen, is an external combustion engine that can produce 10 kilowatts of continuous power (the average home draws 2 KW).
The second innovation is a huge and I mean a huge liquid battery capable of providing power when alternative energy sources slow. It is ideal for when the wind stops blowing for windmills or extended cloudy days affecting the output of solar panels.
Let us take quick look at both and you will see why it is easy to understand the potential of these innovations both now and in the future as science discovers more breakthroughs that help efficiency and miniaturization.
The Beacon 10 Layman’s Explanation of How a Stirling Engine Works
The Beacon 10 is a Stirling engine with modern technological tweaks that makes it a very affordable alternative or supplement to standard power supplies.
Stirling engines work by applying a heat source to gasses sealed in a vacuum. As the gasses heat and cool they move back and forth in the containing systems. This movement can be used to push a piston or turn a flywheel producing electricity.
For a more detailed explanation of how the conversion of thermal energy to mechanical energy works in the Stirling engine you can read, How Stirling Engines Work.
The Advantages of the Beacon 10:
The advantage of the Beacon 10 include but are not limited to:
- They can run on almost any available heat source, the heat can be from solar, natural gas, wind, geothermal, biological or waste heat.
- The engine is more efficient than internal combustion engines.
- They are very quiet and are often used in submarines.
- Asset maintenance is much easier because there are no valves etc.
- They are about the size of a washing machine (although they weigh over 1,000 pounds).
Although it is not currently large enough to supply a large hotel with all its’ power needs, it is certainly enough to heat water for laundry, kitchens and pools. I would think as breakthroughs in miniaturization and power levels occur, several of these machines connected properly could supply a hotel.
Several industries are already making use or have expressed a strong interest in the device including Society of Cable Telecommunications Engineers (SCTE) and NASA.
The Stirling engine certainly has potential on its’ own merits but when combined with the second innovation, the potential for use is vastly expanded.
Liquid Battery Innovation
We have all heard of large batteries but UniEnergy Technologies has gone to the extreme by developing a vanadium redox rechargeable flow battery the size of 5 semi-truck trailers.
Inside 4 of the 40 ton trailers is a half-megawatt fluid battery system with the 5th trailer containing the computers and systems needed to operate the other 4.
Not quite as old as the Stirling engine, the vanadium battery was first patented almost 30 years ago. Like the Stirling engine, it has taken time for technology to catch up in order to provide practical use.
The Main Advantages of a Vanadium Battery are:
- Vanadium can exist in four different oxidation states (means only one electroactive element is needed).
- The capacity can be increased by simply adding larger or more storage tanks.
- It can be discharged for long periods and started up again with no ill effects.
- It can be recharged by just changing out the electrolytes.
- Vanadium batteries have a very fast response and extremely large overload capacities.
- They do not need a lot of maintenance.
The biggest disadvantage is their size. On the other hand, changes in technology are likely to make size less of an issue as time goes on.
Have you figured out how the two innovations when put together can change the power landscape yet?
The New Era of Power Generation
The U.S. electric power grid is by far and large above ground. This makes normal power distribution subject to interruption on a frequent basis. Sometimes the power is out for days and weeks, especially after a major storm or natural disaster.
Hotels, lodges and other industries need a continual energy supply. They also have a need to find more economical means of providing power for laundry, food, spa and other amenities.
Transition or incorporation for the innovations is not extreme. If you have ever worked in a large hotel, you know that they generally have a very large underground/basement where the engineering and operations centers are.
These spaces could easily hold several Beacon 10 engines and in the largest of hotels they could even house a set of vanadium batteries. Together, the innovations could provide substantial uninterrupted power for daily and emergency use.
The questions that pop up are:
- What about the costs?
- Is this practical?
The short answer to the questions above is that the technology is reaching a point where their application is on the cusp of widespread adoption. The costs are low enough to consider their use ($10k and decreasing for a Beacon 10 engine).
Hotels, lodges, cable companies and other industries should be planning how to integrate the future of small to medium size power generation.