Much of the renewed focus on energy conservation and going green has been on what to do at home and in the workplace. But how about the places where people go to relax and play—resorts and other vacations spots? Are they becoming more green? If, in the last year, you were one of the more than 38 million people who stayed an average of five days in one of the 124,270 hotel rooms and basked in the glow of 15,000 miles of neon lights and/or nearly 200,000 slot machines, then you have been in Las Vegas and contributed to the doubling of the rapidly growing local population. Las Vegas is ranked as the second sunniest city in the United States with sunshine 85 percent of the time and a maximum monthly temperature above 80°F for half the year.

That should make it no surprise, though the state population is ranked 35th from the largest, Nevada had the fastest increase rate of electricity consumption of any state in the country (4.5 percent per year) until 2009. According to statistics collected by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), it had a similar top growth rate percentage in population as well. With more visitors to the state’s two resort cities known for their casinos, it seems reasonable that much of the more than 35 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity annually consumed runs these operations. Evidence of such comes from Sue Roaf, a professor and expert in environmental architecture, who determined that residents and guests at the new City Centre near the MGM Grand are projected to consume twice the national household average. TheFunTimesGuide.com reports this would result in a combined annual output of 160 million tons of CO2. Despite some local sentiment that such figures are misleading because most of the electricity comes from the hydroelectric generators of the Hoover Dam, only 17 percent of the state’s electricity is hydroelectric.

The intent is certainly not to single out Las Vegas. But it does serve as a good example for the old adage, “When you have lemons, make lemonade.” To start with, the abundant sunshine that contributes to the high temperatures makes the area an excellent candidate for photovoltaic electricity generation. Unfortunately, the profile of the buildings, with low roof-to-total-volume ratios makes roof-mounted panels inadequate for a significant portion of the energy needed. However, one doesn’t have to drive far from the Strip to find open desert with unobstructed sunshine. A cooperative-based solar generating plant could share the cost and help green the desert.

Considering that the majority of the electricity is being used for cooling and lighting, a large-scale joint venture to convert to more efficient lighting, such as compact-fluorescent and LED-based, and high-efficiency heating, ventilating and air conditioning (HVAC) systems could reduce the premium costs that currently result from such technologies. Whereas the casino floors operate 24/7, sectionalizing the areas to meet the patron loading would allow for reduced lighting and cooling requirements in the off-peak times.

Many people on vacation forget about turning lights off and setting back the thermostat when the room is not occupied. The use of occupancy-sensor-based switches (common in Europe) could be extended from controlling lighting to controlling the cooling/heating as well. Or, thermostats with an “I will be out for X hours” button would allow energy--conscious visitors to help in the cause. Simply closing the curtains rather than letting the sunshine pour into an empty room will significantly reduce the HVAC load. If the occupants don’t cooperate, it could become a daily part of the housekeeping tasks. In many hotels, housekeepers currently open up the curtains or blinds when they clean the rooms.

Other resort areas have different opportunities. According to CityTownInfo.com, half of the Top 10 cities and towns with the highest hotel density are in ski country. While the electrical loads there are more for snow making and chair lifts than glimmering lights, there are opportunities in these applications for higher efficiency motors coupled with adjustable speed drives. As with the energy savings in the desert-based hotel rooms, similar concepts are applicable, though more associated with heating than cooling. Turning down the heat and closing curtains to keep heat in and cold out works just as well when not occupying the room, along with the use of energy-efficient lighting in the rooms and on the slopes. Some of the hotels in the ski resorts also command a much higher daily rate ($400–$1,455) than in the casino hotels. Clearly, passing on the additional cost for energy-efficient heating and lighting improvements would have little impact on the total vacation costs.

Plenty of ways exist to be green while at play. Hopefully, it will soon be a way of life for us no matter where we are.

BINGHAM, a contributing editor for power quality, can be reached at 732.287.3680.