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  Business Times 15 Sep 07
Green hotels gain, others spew hot air
Saving the environment can go with lower power bills, but many still reluctant to change
By Matthew Phan

(SINGAPORE) In some parts of the world, conviction is driving hotels to go green. But, as several hotels in Singapore have concluded, common sense points to the same path.

The Far East Organization, for example, realised that its corporate electricity bill for all its properties across Singapore was $33 million a year. 'Imagine if we can cut that by 10 per cent,' said Chia Swee Cheng, assistant director of the group's central engineering & operations department.

And so its Changi Village hotel has new boiler and chiller systems in place and a far more efficient energy use.

Over at the Grand Hyatt, Singapore's first plant to produce electricity, steam and chilled water at a hotel is under construction. Along with the solar panels planned for a new garden conference room, the plant could slash Hyatt's energy use by a third and save it $800,000 in bills.

While critics say that many local hotels pay only lip service to eco-programmes, there are others, led by Hyatt, who are changing mindsets, going green - and finding that it pays.

'My impression is that all the hotel operators are serious about sustainability, but not necessarily all the owners, who have to pay for changes,' said Robert Hacker of Horwath, a hotel consultancy.

'Generally, all the international chains are taking on board green principles.'

The Regent Singapore, for example, in late 2005 replaced a diesel boiler for heating water with a heat exchanger that produces hot and cold water at the same time. This has cut energy use by a fifth.

And at the Shangri-La, energy use improved over 10 per cent through better work processes, such as using small ovens to prepare meals on demand, rather than keeping a large oven fired up all day just to reheat food.

But critics like Tay Kheng Soon, architect and promoter of socially and environmentally conscious architecture in Singapore since the 1970s, say Hyatt is the only energy- efficient hotel in Singapore.

And though the National Environment Agency handed out the new Energy Smart label to some hotels last month, that is only a starting point, said Mr Tay.

A more basic change might come about, in his opinion, if there were incentives to use renewable energy sources, like wind and solar energy.

Many hotels 'hand-wave' over cosmetic eco-programmes, like using hybrid cars to ferry guests or planting trees, but miss the 'elephant in the room' - like the efficiency of their chiller systems - said Lee Eng Lock, general manager of Trane, a US-based energy solutions firm and an accredited Energy Service Company (ESCO) here.

The Hyatt sets the bar but there is no reason why others should not follow suit, with high returns and backed by bank guarantees, said Mr Lee.

But business in the hotel sector is negotiated on the basis of relationships, so it is not necessarily the most efficient solutions that get selected, he said.

Luxury hotels in Singapore run at an energy intensity of 427 kilowatt hours of electricity per square metre of gross floor area, according to a study by the National University of Singapore (NUS) last year. This is down from the 468 KWh/m2 reported by Apec in 1999, but pales beside the under-300 KWh/m2 averages achieved in parts of Europe and Australia.

In other words, local hotels could be using up to 40 per cent more electricity than ideal.

Dr Lee Siew Eang, head of NUS's Energy Sustainability Unit and leader of the study, recalls some four and five-star hotels saying during the study that energy efficiency was 'not relevant' to them - since, as 'posh hotels', it was 'their duty to be extravagant'.

Many hotel managers were not aware of how much energy their buildings were using. One hotel, which had wanted to apply for an eco-award, was found by NUS to be using an exceptionally high 800 KWh/m2, said Dr Lee. That's almost twice the industry average.

According to the Singapore Hotel Association (SHA), which represents about 90 per cent of the total number of gazetted hotel rooms here, most hotels in Singapore pay attention to water and energy conservation.

'In the long run, it makes good corporate sense for hotels to go green as it not only saves the environment but reduces costs,' said SHA president Kay Kuok.

Whether the message has sunk home is another matter. With the two integrated resorts set to help up Singapore's hotel room stock by over 10 per cent by 2010, it is a critical time to move into energy efficiency, said NUS's Dr Lee. 'The designs are being drawn right now. If we miss this chance, we have to wait another 20 years.'

Business Times 15 Sep 07
A hundred new rooms on a fifth less energy

THE Changi Village Hotel was managed by Le Meridien up until 2001, when its owner, the Far East Organization, decided to take it back under active control and undertake a major revamp.

In 2004, the hotel emerged with a hundred extra new rooms and a new, naturally-lit look.

The hotel took the chance to replace its old diesel boiler and chiller systems - which would not have kept up with the increased load - with 'reverse refrigerant cycle' equipment that effectively produces hot water and cold air at the same time.

It thus improved energy intensity by 20 per cent to a current 372 KWh per square metre of gross floor area, according to Chia Swee Cheng, assistant director of the Central Engineering & Operations Department at Far East.

The chiller system now uses no more than 0.7 KWh of electricity per tonne of chilled water, a vast improvement over the 1.2 KWh/tonne it used before.

A significant part of the energy savings came from switching to hydrocarbon-based refrigerants, said Mr Chia. Hydrocarbons are naturally occurring gases that were used as early refrigerants in the 1930s but abandoned when found to be flammable.

The industry switched to non-flammable fluorine gases, but had to find alternatives yet again when these were found to damage the ozone layer in the 1970s. Unfortunately, these non-ozone depleting alternatives have been found to cause global warming, which has led the industry back to finding ways to safely use hydrocarbons.

Another improvement is a building management system to control the chiller system, which was previously manually operated.

However, since the revamp in 2004, Changi Village has not attempted other energy efficiency initiatives, as it had planned to operate the hotel for a 'testing period' of two to three years to observe the building's performance, said Mr Chia. But he said it targets an energy intensity of 334 KWh/m2 (a 10 per cent reduction) within three years.

Mr Chia's department, formed in 2000, drives efficiency initiatives across the Far East group. 'Our corporate electricity bill across all properties in Singapore was $33 million; imagine if we can cut that by 10 per cent,' he said. To this end, the hotel - and the group at a broader level - is looking to further improve chiller efficiency, such as by using a German 'ball clearing system' that unclogs condenser tubes. It will also experiment with waterless flushing systems, or using NEWater for cooling purposes.

Business Times 15 Sep 07
'Green' Shangri-La saves energy with improved work processes
Luxury hotel's next target is its dated diesel boiler system

EFFICIENCY is a matter of managing work processes and mindset, says Shangri-La's area director of engineering Seow Tin Hwee.

'You can put in $20 million to replace equipment and will straightaway see savings. But if you don't keep watch on how that equipment is used, returns will drop within 2-3 years,' he says.

Shangri-La must be one of the few hotels where, despite not having replaced the 36-year -old diesel boiler system used to heat water, energy intensity is still a relatively low 378 KWh/m2, within the top 25th percentile of Singapore's four- and five-star hotels, according to an NUS study.

And when the boiler is replaced within the year - the hotel has budgeted nearly $1 million to replace it with a heat recovery system by this year- end - it could slash the figure significantly.

The hotel improved energy use by over 10 per cent by reorganising the way it works, says Mr Seow.

For example, it is looking at redesigning its kitchen. Instead of keeping a large oven that is fired all day to cook and reheat food (which leads to wasted heating capacity during restaurants' quiet hours between meal-times), the hotel can save energy by using smaller ovens to prepare food when needed.

Other tricks include: double or triple insulating hot and cold water pipes so that heat is not lost or gained while the water is transmitted; landscaping paths and corridors so they are cooler; and using low- wattage lamps to light up the hotel's gardens in the evening.

Mr Seow reckons the hotel has spent over $1 million on landscaping and lighting alone - though presumably not all the benefits of this go towards efficiency.

The hotel could cut energy use by another 5 per cent by calibrating its cooling system to react more quickly to slight changes in temperature, Mr Seow says. Currently, the temperature sensors of its Building Management System (BMS) can tell if there is a 0.5 degree Celsius change in temperature. He is upgrading the sensors to respond to a 0.1 degree change - which means the chillers (which use 0.65 KWh per tonne of chilled water) won't run so hard when it's already too cold, thus saving energy.

The chillers themselves were installed when Shangri-La also replaced its old system with non-CFC-generating equipment eight years ago. The hotel installed a system that was efficient then; an audit in 1999 reported electricity bill savings of over $1 million a year.

The environmental programme at Shangri-La is part of a corporate social responsibility drive by its corporate office in Hong Kong. Under the programme, any project with a payback period of six months or less automatically gets the green light; others are taken on a case-by-case basis, and the hotel budgets about $1-3 million a year for efficiency measures.

Mr Seow's personal goal? To cut total energy use by 12 per cent and electricity use by at least 3 per cent this year.

Business Times 15 Sep 07
Replacing diesel boiler helped Regent cut energy use by 25%
Hotel plans further moves for efficient power and water use, waste disposal
By Matthew Phan

BLAME the diesel boiler. It burned an average of $30,000 of fuel a month in 2005 to provide hot water to kitchens and guest rooms at The Regent Singapore. And costs were rising. Diesel accounted for almost 5,300 megawatt hours, or more than a quarter of the hotel's energy consumption that year.

In late 2005, The Regent replaced the boiler with a heat recovery system that runs on electricity, eliminating the need for physical fuel.

The system, which includes a 60-tonne capacity water chiller and a heat exchanger, cost $550,000 but did wonders for fuel costs, according to The Regent's director of engineering, Lee Baharrudin. It uses up to $10,000 of electricity a month, but this is offset by lower power requirements elsewhere in the system, so the hotel's total electricity bill remained the same.

The heat recovery system played a major role in bringing down The Regent's energy intensity - the key measure used to determine whether a hotel qualifies for the National Environmental Agency's Energy Smart award.

It accounted for 70 to 80 per cent of a decrease from 469 kilowatt hours per square metre of gross floor area in 2005 to 349 KWh/m2 in 2006, said Mr Baharrudin. The remainder of the savings resulted from measures such as installing high-efficiency, low-wattage bulbs in places like the carpark, guest room corridors and staircases, and using motion detectors to control lighting in washrooms.

The Regent plans another energy audit in 2008 and is aiming for energy intensity of less than 300 KWh/m2 by then.

In the short term, Mr Baharrudin wants to cut this year's electricity bill 5 per cent from that in 2006. He has a range of projects in mind to achieve this.

For one, the chiller could achieve efficiency of 0.6 KW/tonne of chilled water, better than the current 0.75 KW/tonne. This could be done by installing electronic sensors and variable speed drives to calibrate the amount of chilled water flowing to cooling units to meet a required temperature.

Another solution is to replace older, inefficient air-handling units and fan-cooling units, which alone could cut energy intensity 10 per cent, he said.

But the Regent's efficiency measures go beyond electricity. It will install flow regulators in showers to reduce the amount of water used per shower to 12 to 13 litres, from 15 to 16 litres.

And it will use NEWater in cooling towers and for irrigation and flushing. This will save money, as NEWater costs $1 per cubic metre, which is more than twice as cheap as regular tap water.

The hotel also sells its used cooking oil to a company that turns it into biofuel and is starting a trial scheme to do the same with its food waste with local waste manager IUT Global.

Mr Baharrudin says his emphasis on efficiency started over a decade ago when he was working with the InterContinental Hotel. Moving to The Regent in 2000, he brought certain practices with him.

'When I was at the InterContinental, Singapore was generating almost 8,000 tonnes of garbage a day,' he said. 'It's scary if people are not aware of these issues.'

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