By Mattie DeDoes
Resorts represent a sort of “gold standard” of extravagance. Travelers have come to expect that these getaways are places where you can choose between the sauna and the hot tub; where beautiful views and indoor pools are the norm; where grass grows green in the desert climate of Phoenix; and where hotel rooms in Antigua are kept at a comfy 70 degrees in the middle of a scorching summer.
Unfortunately, for most resorts around the globe, this combination of natural beauty with modern amenity comes at a high cost - in both financial and environmental terms.
For example, prior to implementing an energy conservation program in 2009, the Kho Khao Island Beach Resort - a 75 room, 4-star resort along Thailand’s western coast - had an average annual electricity consumption of 400,000 kWh, about the same as 37 U.S. homes combined. Air conditioning loads were responsible for over one-third of this overall consumption of the resort, an all-too-common theme among destinations in hot tropical climate areas.
For larger hotels, the environmental footprint is even greater. A key aspect is the lack of established power grids on remote islands. As a result, resorts have come to depend upon environmentally harmful fuels for most, if not all, of their electricity generation.
However, many resorts are beginning to turn towards solar energy as not only a solution to these energy issues, but also as a novel, artful design technique.
Gasfinolhu Island Resort
A recent and dramatic development in sunlit destinations is Club Med’s Gasfinolhu Island Resort in the Maldives, the world’s first 100% solar-powered resort. This lavish vacation spot consists of 52 3-room villas that reach out into the Indian Ocean, branching out from a central walkway like vertebrae along a spine. On the roof of the villas, walkway, and main area lie 67,000 square feet of silicon solar panels, which produce more than enough power to operate the entire facility on a sunny day. The excess energy that gets produced charges a battery storage system, which can be then discharged to continue the facility’s clean, green operation even during periods of clouds or rain.
In addition to the solar panels, Gasfinolhu also possesses a water chilling system, a desalination tank, and an efficient waste management system. According to Hussain Afeef, Gasfinolhu’s owner, the energy savings from these systems will pay for themselves within six to seven years. This project is part of a larger, government-led initiative of the Maldives to become the world’s first carbon neutral country by 2020.
While the resort’s solar panels provide considerable environmental and economic benefits, certain resort owners have been reluctant to undertake this type of project; they often cling to a belief that covering a resort in solar panels will detract from its picturesque appearance. The architects of the Gasfinolhu resort sought to dispel these concerns by artfully integrating the solar panels into the resort. Ibrahim Nashid, chairman of Renewable Energy Maldives Pvt Ltd, commented on the resort’s aesthetic appeal, saying that “Gasfinolhu destroys all these myths. Its architecture is beautiful. Some have said it’s the solar-paneled spaces on the island that are the most beautiful.”
Other Solar Resorts
The Gasfinolhu resort is the most recent example of this sunlit marriage between art and engineering, but the trend of resort solar has been gaining steam for years. Here are a few other noteworthy solar-powered resorts:
Located on the northwest beaches of Hawaii’s Big Island, the Mauna Lani Bay Hotel has been a longtime leader in environmentally sustainable, yet lavish, living. Labeled an “eco-resort”, the Hotel installed its first rooftop solar in 1998. Since then, they have continued to add capacity, developing a solar energy system that now produces 1,150,250 kWh yearly, making it the world’s largest producer of solar power among resorts. By offsetting the high degree of Hawaii’s electricity that comes from the burning of diesel fuel, this important system is expected to reduce the resort’s CO2 emissions by 12,000 tons over the next 25 years.
Atop the Mandalay Bay Resort Convention Center in Las Vegas, the world’s second-largest rooftop solar array has been constructed. With a capacity of 6.4 MW DC, the installation can offset up to 20% of the resort’s electricity needs at peak production. A case study analysis performed by the installing company, NRG, projects that the array will provide an annual reduction in carbon emissions equivalent to removing 1,300 cars from the road.
Solar energy is not only viable for large resort facilities in warm, sunny climates. Many ski lodges in the northeast United States have turned to power from the sun in order to realize valuable energy savings. Located in the small town of Charlemont, Massachusetts, the Berkshire East ski resort became the first ski resort to operate on 100 percent on-site renewable energy. The solar farm has sun-tracking solar panels which produce about 700,000 kWh annually. Together with a large wind turbine also on-site, the solar panels help meet the facility’s entire electricity demand through renewables. Berkshire East, and other lodges like it, have begun to utilize solar and wind energy sources, especially to power snow-making machines; these devices consume a great deal of energy in order to produce artificial snow when natural snow is unavailable.
The Gasfinolhu Resort, as well as the others mentioned above, show that luxury and sustainability do not have to be mutually exclusive. Rather than the antiquated notion that a sustainable existence requires some sort of personal penance, these beautiful getaway destinations illustrate that a level of lavish lifestyle can be achieved in practical ways. As Nashid said about Gasfinolhu Island, “it is possible to provide power from indigenous sources with compromising luxury comfort.”
On the heels of these noteworthy installations, the continuing technological developments and cost reductions in the solar industry will enable even greater displays of solar extravagance in the future. As many resorts are able to count “sunshine” as perhaps their most abundant resource, it is only natural and desirable that this resource be exploited to its fullest.
Interested in learning more about YellowLite’s renewable energy solutions? Reach out to us today to learn more.