From: Shannon McMahon, The San Diego Union-Tribune
Published February 17, 2005 12:00 AM

Fuel Cells to Supply Electricity at Sheraton

SAN DIEGO — The Sheraton San Diego Hotel and Marina announced yesterday that fuel cells will supply two-thirds of the hotel's electricity by the end of the year. Like batteries, fuel cells convert chemicals into electricity. As long as they are continuously supplied with fuel, such as natural gas, the cells continue to produce electricity without creating pollutants. Hotel analysts believe San Diego's Sheraton, owned by Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, is the first major West Coast hotel to use fuel cell electricity.


"Hotels have been kicking around the idea of fuel cells for years because they're desperate to try to save costs," said Carl Winston, director of the hospitality and tourism management program at San Diego State University. As peak energy rates continue to rise, Winston said, hotels can't shave costs as easily as other industries. "You can't tell guests not take a shower or turn on lights," he said.


While fuel cells remain costly for now, some think they could generate savings in the future. The biggest obstacle, according to research, is harnessing the hydrogen necessary to power fuel cells. The Sheraton's $6.5 million plant will be installed this fall, said Kelly Sanders, the hotel's general manager. Roughly the size of a trailer, the plant will shave 5 percent off the hotel's annual $1.3 million electricity bill.


The San Diego Regional Energy Office contributed about $2.5 million to help fund the plant. The remaining funds came from Alliance Star Energy, a joint venture formed by FuelCell Energy and Alliance Power Inc. The companies will sell the electricity created by the plant to Sheraton at a discounted price.


With Alliance, Starwood added fuel cell hubs to three East Coast hotels starting in 2003. The company plans to continue adding them to its hotels. The fuel cell plants, which resemble giant air conditioners, cost Starwood nothing, barring some marketing costs, Starwood spokesman Mark Ricci said. The bayside hotel was chosen by Starwood because of its 1,044-room size, which makes it the largest Starwood hotel in San Diego, Ricci said. The fuel cell electricity will supply all of the hotel's base electrical needs, Sanders said. It will also heat the 40,000 gallon Lagoon Pool. The plant will be tucked behind landscape on what was once a tennis court, Sanders added.


The alternative energy movement is part of a larger trend in the hospitality industry toward cost-effective measures such as cogeneration and on-site power plants, Winston said. "Hotels have an economic mandate and a lot of pressure from utility companies."


To see more of The San Diego Union-Tribune, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.uniontrib.com. (c) 2005, The San Diego Union-Tribune. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News.


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