Brian Muirie, Sales Director of diesel generator specialist, Dieselec Thistle, explains why standby power has become so business critical in the hospitality sector and outlines the specification considerations affecting diesel generators at hotels.
Whether they’re away for a leisure break or a business trip, hotel guests expect a level of comfort equal to or beyond what they could expect at home, so power cuts are a big no-no. And at the profitable luxury and boutique end of the marketplace, where impeccable attention to detail is a pre-requisite, the pressure to ensure guests enjoy a perfect stay is even greater. But the trend towards investing in standby power systems at hotels is not just being driven by the increasingly competitive marketplace and the expectations of discerning customers. Standby power is a matter of risk mitigation and its becoming increasingly specified for hotels because the risks have escalated to business critical levels.
One of the reasons why the risk of power failure has increased so much in hotels is that we live in such a power hungry society. The UK may have embraced the need to conserve energy and use it wisely but, as a nation, we are using more than ever before, which puts the grid under increasing pressure and increases the risk of outages. Add to that the seemingly established trend for extremely harsh winters that put extra strain on power demand and it’s clear that the already increased risk escalates at certain times of year too.
The general increase in energy demand is echoed by hotels and their guests. Power showers, TVs and air conditioning in every room make many hotels power hungry beasts and over the past few years the number of mobile electronic devices that guests typically bring with them has only added to hotels’ power consumption. Laptops, mobile phones, iPods and tablets may not use much charge individually, but multiply a combination of two or three of those devices for every guest in a 150-bed hotel and it’s easy to see how much more electricity a hotel requires now as compared to ten or even five years ago.
The increased risk of power outage for hotels is more insidious than the amount of power that they use: the way in which hotels use technology to enhance efficiency is integral to their operations and, therefore, intrinsically increases the risk.
While there may be some independent hotels that remain quaintly reliant on manual booking systems, with a pen and a ledger on the front desk, even most smaller hotels store booking information on a PC these days, and if that goes down so too does all their business critical data. For larger hotel chains, most bookings are now taken centrally and any information about reservations, guest contact details or billings has to be retrieved from a computerised system. Online booking systems that are confirmed in real time hold booking data online and securely and hotels can only access the data via the approved IP location. As a result, if the power goes down, the hotel’s management team is powerless to check anyone in or out, contact arriving guests to inform them of the problem or check occupancy levels.
Similarly, while there are some hotels that provide guests with a key to their room on arrival, most have consigned the key to history and instead allocate rooms with an electro-magnetic card key. But if the card readers no longer work due to a power outage, guests will no longer be able to access their rooms, leaving the management team with a foyer full of disgruntled customers and no information about who belongs where.
It’s this kind of nightmare scenario that standby power installations are designed to avoid. A a diesel generator works in combination with a control system that ensures that the power source is automatically switched across from mains to standby in the event of an outage. This enables the hotel to continue to operate on a business-as-usual footage until the mains power is restored. However, there are a number of design and specification criteria that must be factored into the standby solution, depending on the size, location and power consumption of the hotel.
The most appropriate specification for a hotel installation is a standard AMF (Auto Mains Failure) system which replicates the mains power provision and backs up all the energy requirements of the hotel. In this way, the hotel is able to operate all its business critical systems and the guests notice no change to normal hotel services, safeguarding the hotel’s reputation. In order to specify such a system, it is first necessary to know how much power the hotel typically uses and this should be assessed as a maximum requirement to cover all eventualities. It will vary depending on a hotel’s size, facilities and location.
Location is also an important factor in determining what noise attenuation will be required as part of the specification. Effective noise attenuation prevents nuisance noise to guests and neighbours and the proximity of the generator to the hotel will affect the level of attenuation required. It’s important to note that, even if the need to switch to standby is occasional or non-existent, the generator will have regular test runs as part of a maintenance regime.
For rural hotels or those with large grounds, the generator is usually positioned with the existing plant on the periphery of the hotel estate. For city hotels, however, the generator will need to be positioned on the roof or in the basement so logistical considerations and the roof’s load-bearing capabilities will need to be factored into the specification. These considerations should also factor in the fuel tank which is also heavy and bulky. To an extent, the size of the required fuel tank will depend on the size of the hotel but it’s also important to take into account the ease or difficulty of re-fuelling. For city hotels acquiring additional fuel should present no difficulty but for rural hotels, particularly those in danger of being cut off in bad weather, it is prudent to maintain a larger supply of fuel on site in case of a prolonged outage.
For hotels, just as any other sector, a standby power installation is an insurance that may never be used. But insurance exists to mitigate risk and as the risks of power outages rise in the hotel sector so too does the requirement to put standby power in place.