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Overcoming a Power Outage: Diesel Generators vs. Energy Storage Systems

All high-rise buildings (both new and existing) in the United States must be equipped with emergency backup power systems, but which system is best for hotels?
man and woman looking at laptop in the dark during power outage
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In the hospitality industry, a loss of power is more than just a minor inconvenience. Extended power outages could result in the loss of business during the blackout, negative reviews that lead to a future loss of business, and most critically, since many emergency systems are powered by electricity, unsafe conditions for employees and guests.

Ever since the Northeast Blackout of 2003, it’s been an industry standard to have some form of backup power in hotels and hospitality environments. In fact, The International Code Council now requires that all high-rise buildings (both new and existing) in the United States must be equipped with emergency backup power systems. In this article, we’ll look at two of the most common solutions: diesel generators and energy storage systems (ESS).

Diesel Generators

Diesel generators have long been the standard because they are fuel efficient and quite durable. The up-front cost of a diesel generator does not typically break the budget, and the only ongoing expense to operate one is the cost of the fuel (as unpredictable as that might be) and in order to have reliable operation, it’s critically important to do regular routine preventative maintenance. Diesel generators have long been considered a short-term emergency energy solution for smaller businesses.

However, we know that hotels and restaurants require a lot of energy for daily operations, and a diesel generator in these larger commercial environments may only provide minimal coverage.

Take the case of a business traveler working from her hotel room in Florida when the power goes out due to a storm during hurricane season. Needing to get some work done, she’s hoping to continue her busy day at the hotel restaurant while grabbing a bite to eat. She exits her room and finds that the elevator isn’t working, of course, and tracks down 10 flights of stairs with her laptop.

Upon entering the lobby area, she notices that the only lighting available is at the front desk, because that’s all the generator can support. There’s no air conditioning, and the sticky Florida heat is already making things uncomfortable. Lunch is out of the question because the kitchen is closed, but at least she can get a drink from the bar – that is, until they tell her that they are only accepting cash right now because their credit card system is down as well.

This may sound like an extreme example, but it’s a reality for many large hotels during power outages. Investing in additional diesel generators could be a solution, but that brings two other factors into play: noise and ventilation. Not only are diesel generators often quite loud, but they emit carbon monoxide, an odorless, colorless gas that could lead to poisoning. Preventative Medicine Reports shows that between 2005-2018, 905 guests at hotels within the United States were poisoned by carbon monoxide in 115 incidents, including 22 fatalities. For these reasons, diesel generators should always be placed outdoors, and away from any locations frequented by guests, including dining and conference facilities.

Energy Storage Systems

An alternative to the diesel generator is the energy storage system (ESS) which stores energy for later use. ESS operates on renewable energy and can be coupled with either an existing solar system or connected directly to the grid. They can vary in size and storage capabilities to scale up or down to the size of the business, and up to four commercial units can be stacked together, totaling 1,000 kilowatts of energy.

With this much stored energy, our Florida business traveler has a much better experience during the power outage. She is able to take the elevator, enjoy the air conditioning, and get food or drink (while paying with her corporate travel card) because an ESS can power all these systems at once.

In addition to the short term benefits during a power outage, the business owner also benefits in the long term from having control over energy expenses, shifting energy use to more optimal times when power is less expensive. They also get a jump on many state mandates that require the move away from fossil fuels, like diesel gas.

A common argument against the ESS comes from business owners who may be reluctant to make an investment. But in many cases, the system will pay for itself over time. First, there’s the energy bill savings described above, by shifting to the ESS storage during peak hours when energy costs are at their highest. Plus, many state and federal incentives (such as The Inflation Reduction Act) offer tax credits to commercial buildings that are energy efficient.

You’re Not Alone

The final hurdle many business owners must navigate is getting over the fear of being the first to try something new. Fortunately, with an ESS system, you don’t have to be first.

Located in downtown Fort Worth, Texas, the historic Sinclair Hotel was transformed from an office into a hotel. Owner Farukh Aslam needed a backup energy solution that would fulfill both regulatory and Marriott requirements. When Aslam saw the spec for a diesel generator in the basement, he questioned why hoteliers still rely on fossil fuels for backup power generation. Why not consider a battery-based ESS, he wondered.

Aslam petitioned the City of Fort Worth and Marriott, and with UL approval, was cleared to install an ESS. The Sinclair is now home to the world’s first UL924 lithium-ion ESS to back up all emergency systems at the hotel, including lighting, elevators, and stairway pressurization. The Sinclair also is home to a cutting-edge DC microgrid and has become the hallmark of sustainability and innovation in the hospitality industry.



Ruben Willmarth is Senior Sales Engineer for commercial ESS at LG Electronics USA. He has been with LG since 2017. Earlier in his career, Willmarth was with TMAD Taylor & Gaines as a Design Engineer, working with HVAC, co-generation expansion, and conducting energy studies with Los Angeles County hospitals. Willmarth went on to work with Stewart & Stevenson as an Engineering Manager, working with their turnkey power group building standby power plants, landfill gas, and peaking power plants in Central California before joining LG Electronics.

The LG Electronics Energy Storage Systems business represents a fast-growing new area for LG in the United States, leveraging the company’s renewable energy expertise to unlock value for customers and plug into the new era of sustainability. Based in Englewood Cliffs, N.J., LG Electronics USA Inc. is the North American subsidiary of LG Electronics Inc., a $68 billion global innovator in technology and manufacturing.

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