Taking the heat out of energy consumption in hospitality and leisure: The key success stories

Posted by Clare Burns on 02-Aug-2016 15:00:00

Labels on lights and reusing towels are important, but they’re yesterday’s energy saving tactics. The most competitive hotels and leisure centres are investing more heavily in energy efficient technology – and reaping the rewards.


Buildings consume 40% of the total energy and emit 36% of greenhouse gases in Europe, which puts them at the forefront of EU and national policies. Leisure centres and hotels don’t have the best record when it comes to their energy efficiency though.

Energy challenges in hospitality and leisure

In some cases, it’s hardly their fault. Hotels can be in old, poorly insulated buildings, for a start. The guests may well not be as energy conscious when away as they are at home. Water and rooms will need to be heated and ready, 24/7.

Leisure centres face similar challenges.

In Europe, there are around 1.5 million sports facilities, representing 8% of the overall building stock. Studies in the UK have estimated that the sector can account for up to 10 % of annual energy consumption.

Indeed, most leisure centres were built before 1980 and no considerable changes have been made. Boilers can be over-sized and inefficient, ventilation and air conditioning systems can be poorly maintained, and lighting can often be outdated.

The Carbon Trust notes: “In a typical sports centre, energy costs are second only to labour costs, accounting for as much as 30% of total running costs – a higher figure than in most other sectors.”

John Allan, national chairman at the Federation of Small Businesses, says: “Almost a third of small firms highlight the cost of energy as a barrier to growth and success of their business.”

That’s the bad news.

The good news

If you’re consuming lots of energy there are plenty of opportunities to use less.

This will:

  • Save money.
  • Increase profits.
  • Cut carbon.
  • Protect you from further environmental regulation and taxation.
  • Attract more customers.

But how much could you save?

This depends on a range of factors: the site, the footfall, the systems already in place, the levels of investment available and the buy-in of the staff and senior management.

Case studies have shown leisure centres could save around a third on their energy bills. Just a 10% improvement could save the sector £70m and reduce carbon emissions by hundreds of thousands of tonnes.

A hotel could typically cut energy by a fifth through implementing simple measures, but with additional investment the savings increase.

Some of the larger chains, like Whitbread, are spending millions reducing energy and carbon across their estates.

“We see our sustainability strategy as an opportunity, not a compliance exercise, both in terms of future revenue growth and protecting existing value,” says Chris George, head of energy and environment, Whitbread.

Indeed, coupled with this growing pressure to reduce their carbon footprint, hotels and leisure centres face rising energy costs, and the real risk of UK blackouts.

The pioneers are protecting themselves from these future “shocks” by investing time and money in developing detailed energy plans.

A strategy for saving energy

This isn’t something to be afraid of. It’s about more than the short-term gains from labelling light switches and raising awareness. The most efficient, sustainable and competitive businesses are the ones with a longer-term strategy for saving energy.

“A big leisure centre might be spending £200k to £300k on energy, so if you have someone trying to save 10% or 20% through energy management that’s a decent saving without investing too much time,” says David Reilly, associate director, the Carbon Trust.

This vision will require higher levels of investment, but the returns on investment can be attractive.

Combined Heat and Power (CHP) to cut costs, carbon, and energy

Combined Heat and Power (CHP) is one increasingly attractive proposition for those with high heat requirements. For years, the hospitality sector has been turning to the well understood and mature technology to cut energy, carbon and costs.

There’s the Medina Centre on the Isle of Wight that has had Combined Heat and Power (CHP) since 2004 – it has saved 813 tonnes of carbon since implementation. The Trafford Community Centre has installed three of the cogeneration systems, reducing the annual footprint across the board by 359 tonnes.

More recently, The Crowne Plaza Liverpool installed a new system as part of renovations in 2010. The Combined Heat and Power (CHP) unit is sized to meet the demands of the hotel – ventilation, light and other services, as well as heat of course. The result? Carbon savings of 175 tonnes and an energy bill that’s £10,000 lighter.

The ROI on the projects tends to be between two and four years. As Steve Hayes of Trafford Community Leisure Trust, puts it: “This is a win-win energy saving solution. We can enjoy energy savings today – paid for via tomorrow's savings. As well as reducing our energy costs, we are also able to comply with environmental legislation and raise our environmental performance.”

A “net-zero emission economy”

Indeed, these examples are about more than creating the latest in low-carbon buildings. Recently, nations from across the world gathered to sign the Paris Agreement on climate change.

The UK government has promised to enshrine the commitment to deliver a “net-zero” emission economy into UK law.

That means the ambitious targets in the Climate Change Act have been tightened further. In March’s Budget, the Chancellor announced that the Carbon Reduction Commitment will be scrapped by 2019, but the Climate Change Levy (CCL) will increase as a result. Organisations generating and using electricity on site from highly efficient CHP systems currently benefit from CCL exemption, which is a major tax saving.

Reports in the media suggest the Government has turned its back on its green commitments, but there is increasingly little wriggle room available to meet UK, EU and global legislation to curb greenhouse gas emissions. The focus, therefore, will be on the sectors that use – and waste – the most energy.

That puts hotels and leisure centres firmly in the spotlight.


  • Legislation around carbon and energy efficiency will only intensify, as will pressure from clients and customers for you to “go green”.
  • A long-term strategy is needed, rather than a light-touch here and now approach.
  • The more you invest in saving energy, the more you’ll save.
  • Even the big investments, like Combined Heat and Power (CHP), can have returns of two to four years.
  • Combined Heat and Power (CHP) is an attractive proposition for those with high heat demands, with savings of hundreds of tonnes of carbon and tens of thousands of pounds, including exemption from Climate Change Levy payments.

Discover why – and how – you should be creating a long term strategy to cut carbon, costs, and energy use in hotels and leisure centres. Download How to create and implement an energy plan in Hospitality & Leisure.HowtoCreateandImplement-1.jpg

Topics: CHP / Cogeneration, Hospitality and Leisure

Clare Burns

Clare Burns is a technical marketer with many years’ experience in the energy arena, as well as in fashion, telecoms and education. Fluent in 3 languages, Clare has worked across Europe. She currently works for ENER-G, a UK manufacturer of carbon reducing, energy efficient products exporting its cogeneration technology across the globe.