Boutique biomass

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Letʼs be honest, running a business is all about the bottom line, butrunning a boutique hotel is about a lot more, not least guest satisfaction and your hotel's eco-credentials.

The myth is that energy conservation in hotels can undermine the quality, reduce guest comfort and deter guests from returning. But the reality in today's eco-savvy world, is that the production and controlling of energy for use in your boutique hotel will often make conditions more comfortable for your guests - and comfortable guests are more likely to return.

According to some surveys customers are more inclined to choose a hotel that does not damage the environment and some are even prepared to pay a premium to ensure this.

The World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO), under its Hotel Energy Solutions (HES) project, aims to increase energy efficiency in European hotels by 20 per cent, and yet, typically 20 per cent of a businesses annual energy costs are wasted through the use of energy inefficient equipment. So investment in energy efficient equipment makes sound business and environmental sense, especially when it could directly increase revenue without the need for additional sales, improve your boutique hotel's eco-credentials, and even lead to carbon reduction and potential sustainable tourism awards.

In August 2011 The World Tourism Organisation stated that tourism is responsible for five per cent of the worldʼs CO2 emissions, of which hotels and other types of accommodation account for two per cent - a comparatively small, yet important, footprint that the tourism industry has assumed as a priority to be addressed.

Many boutique hotels have already implemented energy saving measures such as energy efficient lighting, zoning controls matching occupancy, BMS or BEMS and so on. Yet heating and hot water accounts for the majority of the energy requirements, and up to 60 per cent of energy costs in a boutique hotel and therefore it should be addressed.

So how do you continue improving your eco-credentials, and making cost savings? Biomass wood boilers have been heavily used on the continent for many years. In Sweden, up to 35 per cent of all energy production is through biomass. Compare this to three per cent in the UK, predominantly in power stations, and it is clear that we can all benefit from this tried and tested equipment.

As we all know, cash-flow keeps a business running fluently, so capital costs for new plant equipment can stagnate the push for renewable energy. So how do we get around this problem? The introduction of the Government's Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) is a good place to start.

The RHI, which is the first initiative of its kind in the world, will encourage the installation of renewable heat equipment, which includes biomass boilers. The RHI is a Government backed scheme introduced in July 2011 to provide businesses and the public sector with cash back for the generation of heat, allowing renewable energy to be financially attractive as well as the green. The Government has allocated £860 million for the RHI, and as with all Government funded schemes, funds are allocated on a first-come first-served basis, so you will need to be quick to secure your RHI payments.

Letʼs look at some numbers. A 190kW biomass boiler, which can serve the heating and hot water needs of up to a 100-room hotel, costs circa £99,000 to install and commission. It will generate £20,000+ per annum from the RHI - £500k+ over the 20 year term, and save up to 40 per cent on fuel costs against current oil prices - and we have a fair idea which way oil prices will go in the future.

Each boutique hotel is different in size, and may not require a 190kW biomass boiler, but this can be established at the time of survey. The RHI payments and fuel costs savings will still apply for smaller installations.

Case study 1
One hotel installed a 190kW biomass boiler in an energy cabin, a self-contained unit housing the biomass boiler and the fuel store, and it is projected to make total annual savings of £94,188. Their previous heating system had very little control and no BMS in place, and during the winter period the boilers had to run constantly.

Case study 2
A country house hotel and spa is thought to be the first hotel in Wales to harness the power of biomass fuel for all its heating needs. The 600kW renewable energy system, which is powered by wood chips, will completely cancel out the £90,000 a year oil bill of the four-star hotel and will help safeguard its future as a key island employer of 80 people.

A main concern of any boutique hotel that decides to install a biomass boiler, is the potential interruption of the running of the hotel. Opting for the energy cabins ensures that any potential interruption is kept to a minimum, as the energy cabins are designed to house the biomass boiler, and the fuel supply, in either 2 x 20ft containers or one 40ft container, and they can be configured to suit the building's exterior layout. There is no need to refit the existing plant room - this is left as is allowing for backup. Energy cabins can be powder-coated in any colour, or even clad to your requirements. Fuel supply and ongoing fuel deliveries are also fully automated, and training is provided to staff involved in maintenance of the heating system.

With capital costs being a concern, a finance packages are available for up to 100 per cent of the cost, and if you are located in either Wales or Northern Ireland, you could be eligible for an interest free business loan of between £3,000 and £400,000. The size of the loan and repayment term is dependent on the projected C02 savings of a project.

Philip Smith-Lawrence is sales manager at Constant Energy, which  can provide a full project management service for the installation and commissioning of biomass boilers, claiming the RHI, and applying for finance.


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