Luxury Holidays and Energy Sustainability Can Go Hand in Hand

An increasing number of holiday resorts are turning to clean energy to reduce their environmental footprint and energy costs.
Published: Tue 23 Feb 2016

Because of their small size and remoteness many islands have been forced to rely on costly diesel generators for power But, with energy storage becoming easier to install and more cost effective, going 100% renewable is becoming more likely in the future for isolated and rural areas as well as cities. [List of Cities to Go 100% Renewable Continues to Grow].

Club Med’s Finolhu Villas, a five-star over-water resort on Kaafu Atoll in The Maldives is a good example of this trend. The resort has just gone 100% solar-it is the world’s first luxury resort to be powered completely by clean energy.  The resort, set on a 5ha island, is made up of a central jetty which houses 52 three-room villas, a central restaurant, a bar and pool area and an on-site spa and gym.

Luxury can be environmentally friendly   

What’s encouraging about this resort is that its high prices could probably pay for a diesel-solar power system but Club Med has opted for a cleaner and more sustainable route. The Maldives is one of the places most at threat from climate change and rising sea levels so Club Med should be applauded for creating a five star resort which proves that luxury can be environmentally friendly.

What should thrill the energy industry even more is that this resort proves that luxury and comfort do not have to be sacrificed in the name of sustainability. The complex is blanketed with 6,200m2 of sleek silicon grids consisting of 4,000 PV panels which are not hidden or disguised, but positioned in plain sight, artfully integrated into the resort’s design. The panels are treated as a design element, the glass panels forming the roof of covered walkways. This roof allows light to filter through – providing shade and shelter for resort guests. 

The project’s solar panels generate around 1MW of energy per day, exceeding the required level. This excess energy is stored for days when solar penetration is low.

What’s interesting about this is that two hundred people occupying the island is equivalent to the population density of Miami. In theory, if Miami and other cities in Florida delegate 12% of their land or rooftops to solar panels, the sunshine would give the state of Florida something more than just a nickname—clean energy, says the architect of Finolhu Villas.

Added to the clean power, the island also has a desalination tank that yields a self-sufficient water supply, an efficient waste management system, and landscaping designed to minimize erosion. None of these sustainable features reduce the level of luxury and comfort that is expected from a five star resort.

The Phoenician, a Starwood Luxury Collection resort in Arizona, is another resort whose 568kW solar energy system was installed using a design-led approach. Not only is it designed to work with the air-flow of the desert environment, it also offers a great outdoor shaded event space. Starwood Hotels Group can be proud of this resort as it commits to designing luxury resorts with the environment in mind.

Dubai’s Sustainable City plans cannot be overlooked in this space. A 100% solar powered eco-hotel resort is on the cards as part of this City [due to open in 2017].

Islands could be 80% renewable in five years

Richard Branson’s Necker Island in the Caribbean is another good example of islands going clean. There are plans to develop a microgrid which will generate the majority of its power through solar and wind; designed as a pilot project to show other islands in the region what can be achieved without the use of expensive polluting generators.

Mr Branson’s new development on Moskito Island has been taken a step further by redefining the concept of the eco-resort. Its luxurious villas will all be powered by solar and wind alone.

He adds: “We know that islands will suffer the most from climate change and sea level rise. Reefs will be devastated and wildlife decimated. However, it’s realistic to think that whole islands could be 75-80% clean energy in four to five years.” [Bahamas Takes On Renewable Energy Challenge] and [Belize Joins Caribbean’s Move To Low-Carbon Energy] and [Turks & Caicos Joins Ten Island Challenge].

Clean energy on the ski slopes

Ski resorts are also looking at ways to harness sunshine, improve their green credentials, and save on the high costs associated with running a resort. While no resort has reached 100% solar, there are a few that are close to it. Again, this will improve with the development of cost effective and quality battery storage technology.

Austria’s highest ski region – The Pitztal glacier, in the Tirol region, is installing a mammoth solar array this year. At 260m it will be Europe’s highest PV solar system.  The €2.5 million project will produce 850,000kWh/year and generate enough energy to power 100% of the resort’s use.

In the US, there are three New York’s State run ski areas that are using solar to power their ski lifts and snow making operations. Under a 25-year power purchase agreement, Belleayre, Gore and Whiteface Mountain’s commitments are in keeping with Governor Cuomo’s ‘Reforming the Energy Vision’s NY Sun Initiative’ – valued at US$1 billion-all in the name of advancing solar in New York State.

Gore Mountain, with the largest lift operation in the region, consumes 13 million kWh (approx US$1 million dollars in electricity costs). Solar is set to reduce the resort’s bill by over US$200,000 in the first year alone.

It is clear that holiday resorts are catering to a growing trend of holidaymakers that are becoming increasingly concerned about their carbon footprint. Resorts could find themselves alienated from an already highly competitive industry if they fail to embrace [and showcase] their contribution to sustainability.