Talking Point: Can hotels meet all their clean energy needs off-grid?

Power demand and supply at the Hotel Tierra Atacama

Power demand and supply at the Hotel Tierra Atacama

In this Talking Point, Busso von Bismarck, Head of Business Development, Founder & Management at Qinous Smart Energy Storage asks whether there’s a two-step approach to clean energy for off-grid properties.

At the Tierra Atacama Hotel & Spa we recently held an event to launch an entirely emissions-free solar and battery storage system. The system had recently been upgraded.

As both solar photovoltaic and battery storage technology continues to improve, the era of diesel electricity generation for hotels and resorts located beyond the reaches of established electricity networks, is ending.

The reason for this is the triple payoff that a solar+storage system delivers, when compared to a diesel genset:

  1. quiet and clean operation has a positive impact on hotel guest experience;
  2. savings on diesel fuel provide a financial windfall and electricity costs can be locked in over the life of system – unlike fluctuating diesel prices;
  3. the venue can achieve a dramatic reduction in CO2 emissions.

A fourth and little-known payoff is that solar+storage systems today can deliver a more reliable supply of electricity than diesel. This may seem counterintuitive, with the generation of electricity from renewable resources such as the sun and wind, often demonized as being ‘highly variable’ or ‘unreliable’.

While it is certainly true that the question regarding renewables begs, ‘what happens when the sun doesn’t shine or the wind doesn’t blow?’ However, the Tierra Atacama solar+storage system demonstrates that a well-designed and executed solar PV array plus an intelligent battery storage system can deliver a more stable, robust and reliable electricity to an off-grid facility.

The primary reason for this enhanced reliability is the better quality of electricity supply on a facility’s ‘micro grid’ when supported by an advanced battery system. The battery can better meet the demands of a short-term peak in electricity demand – when energy hungry devices are switched on or off – by providing both the required voltage and the electricity frequency on the grid.

The regulation of electricity frequency on the grid is usually provided by what is known as ‘spinning reserve’, provided by fossil fuelled generators, which beyond the grid means a diesel genset. A battery can regulate this frequency instantaneously, rather than ramping up and down like a generator, providing a higher quality of power and protecting costly electric devices like computer servers.

Another benefit is that the Qinous battery unit, as provided to Tierra Atacama, can ‘restart’ or power up the grid independently of a diesel generator, known as a ‘black start’. This is particularly helpful in the event of power outages.

Additionally, a venue’s standing in terms of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is immediately enhanced through the adoption of clean technology, such as the Atacama solar+storage system. Tierra Hotels has already been recognised as the Most Sustainable Tourism Company in Chile, on the back of its innovative deployment of solar and the use of local and eco-materials in its design and construction.

Two German companies designed and executed the system: Kraftwerk the solar PV, and Qinous the battery storage. In fact, the project itself was executed in two stages.

First, in 2013, PV project developer and turnkey installer Kraftwerk designed and constructed a 23 kilowatt-peak (kWp) PV system, roughly 100 solar panels – and integrated the solar energy seamlessly with the Tierra Atacama diesel genset system. This delivered diesel savings of around 15% a year.

While there are often many questions and some hesitation about adopting relatively new technologies, the smooth operation and stable electricity supply of the solar system at stage one gave Tierra Hotels the confidence to upgrade their onsite solution and add the battery. And without adding battery storage, the solar system would always be limited as to how much diesel could be replaced while ensuring continuous power supply.

This year, the operators contracted Kraftwerk to increase the solar share with a further 133 kWp of solar panels and with battery storage. Kraftwerk commissioned smart-battery solution provider Qinous to design, produce and install a 335 kWh battery system – and to integrate it with the PV and diesel generators.

The result of the upgrade is that the Tierra Hotel can now completely switch off its diesel genset during the day, and for a few hours each night. The diesel savings are also expected to be greatly increased –  to an incredible 60-65% a year.

“One of our core values in Tierra Hotels is the protection of our environment, that’s why we want to provide the best experience and service with minimal disruption,” says Miguel Purcell, the Executive Director of Tierra Hotels. “We’ve saved a significant amount of diesel over the past couple of years and have substantially decreased our carbon footprint.”

While the Tierra Atacama resort is an island surrounded by sand, island hotels and resorts scattered throughout the world’s oceans are also prime sites to benefit from today’s solar+storage systems.

“The Qinous battery systems arrive on site fully assembled and are rigorously tested before shipment,” says Founder and Managing Director Steffen Heinrich. “We’ve shipped them to the Australian Outback, African villages, and even high up in the Alps, and they can be on site, installed and up and running in a matter of days.”

An additional advantage of the system is that it can provide detailed data as to the operation not only of the battery itself, but of the energy system at the site. The Qinous portal, from which the Tierra Atacama data above was collected, can help facility owners and operators get a deeper understanding of their energy system – allowing for the optimisation of energy use and further savings into the future.

This month, the company completed the installation of a 61 kWh battery system at the Hochleckenhaus shelter high in the Austrian Alps. The battery unit was transported to the site by helicopter. It was coupled to a 17 kWp solar PV plant.

Once installed, the battery solution allows Austrian Alpine Association (ÖAV) not only to observe the operation of their solar+storage array, but also monitor and log gas and water consumption within the mountain hut. Visitors then can be billed for their consumption accurately and with complete certainty.

“What impressed us about the Qinous solution was its reliability and its modern, holistic and flexibly expandable concept," says Peter Hochleitner, chairman of the ÖAV's Vöcklabruck section. “As alpine associations, we place particularly high demands on energy supplies from renewable sources in huts that carry our environmental seal of approval.”

One Response to Talking Point: Can hotels meet all their clean energy needs off-grid?

  1. Whether a hotel can reach 100% renewable (and therefore zero carbon) status is really just a question of money.

    Yes anyone can achieve 100% renewable. The better question is “Can we achieve 100% renewable at an acceptable price?”. The answer then is a little more complicated and highly location specific. A hotel in an ideal location can make full use of local renewables – solar (PV and heat), geo-thermal, hydro, biomass, anaerobic digestion, even wind can all make a contribution.

    But it depends on where you are and what price you have to pay for energy (electricity, coal, gas, diesel) at the moment. And this balance, between cost of renewables and cost of fossil fuels, is changing rapidly. What does not work, financially, today, will work in the near future.

    There is little doubt that EVERY hotel can increase its on-site generation of renewable heat and power and can do so at a sensible cost – the only issue is how much – 10%?, 20%?, 50% or more? But of course the real financial benefits come firstly from better energy efficiency.

    In our experience renewables can generate financial returns of 10-20% with paybacks of between 3 and 10 years. But investment in efficiency can have returns twice or three times this. So yes invest in renewables; but first reduce use and insulate. You can contact us at martin.heath@be.coop for more information. Thanks.

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