Green Hilton Sets The PACE

By Susan Casey | Sep 15, 2014




Cooperation, coordination and conversation can pay off. That’s what the team behind the energy upgrade of Hilton Los Angeles/Universal City discovered when the hotel underwent a $7 million energy-saving retrofit, the biggest property-assessed clean energy (PACE) commercial project in the nation. The hotel chain reported an annual energy and maintenance savings of $800,000 in its first year after completion of the work. That is nothing to scoff at.

The five-month project, which ran from November 2013 until April 2014, came together as a result of a series of connections. In late 2012, Stanley Rodriguez, manager of special projects at the Hilton, attended a workshop in regard to sustainability certifications sponsored by the United States Green Building Council-Los Angeles (USGBC-LA). 

“We knew then that our Energy Star rating wasn’t what we wanted and that we had a significant need to reduce our energy footprint,” said Steve Thompson, facilities manager, Hilton Los Angeles/Universal City.

The USGBC-LA stepped up to assist the Hilton in its efforts to launch a project to increase the property’s energy efficiency by referring the hotel to The Energy Coalition (a California-based nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization that empowers governments, businesses and schools to be energy-responsible communities).The Energy Coalition, in turn, involved the Los Angeles chapter of the National Electrical Contractors Association (LA/NECA). LA/NECA then deployed ReNewAll, a California sustainability firm that works with multiple governmental financial programs to develop energy-efficiency, demand-response and energy-storage projects.

ReNewAll arranged for financing for multiple energy audits to be done to quantify mechanical, window, energy management and other systems that could be upgraded to a higher efficiency level. Preliminary energy audits were performed by electrical contractor O’Bryant Electric Inc., Chatsworth, Calif., along with Emcor Mesa, Gexpro Energy Solutions, Shell Roofing, Solar Art and View Glass. The goal for each company was to analyze the collected data and create a cost-benefit analysis to be presented to the corporate Hilton team.

After Hilton accepted the presentation, the multimeasure project began with the upgrade of two chillers and the control system, more than 450 guest room air conditioner fan motors and 53 kitchen cooler/freezer fan motors. The scope also included window-film applications in each suite and installation of electrically tinted glass in the main lobby and efficient showerheads in each suite. The elevators were modernized, electric vehicle chargers were installed and more than 10,000 lighting fixtures were retrofitted.

“Initially, it was a smaller scale project,” Thompson said. “It was to upgrade one centrifugal chiller, maybe some variable-speed pumping, and then our friends at ReNewAll opened our doors to some new horizons we’d never considered. We expanded the project to include a lighting retrofit, high-efficiency fan motors in the rooms, and high-performance window film.”

Lighting the way

O’Bryant Electric’s superintendent Greg Zickovich and project manager Gary Leder worked with Ben Moore, then sales representative of TCP Lighting, and Charles Norris of Gexpro, a distribution company, to specify lamps and fixture upgrades throughout the property. 

“Between their knowledge and our experience, we made selections of product that were energy-efficient and created the desired effect in specific areas of the hotel,” Zickovich said. “Lamp color selection throughout the facility was crucial in upholding the Hilton standard. We did mockups in the various areas to ensure that the hotel was happy with the look.”

The lighting upgrade featured a direct swap from incandescent to light-emitting diode (LED) lamps in any screw-based fixtures. In the suite corridors, O’Bryant Electric adjusted the Hilton’s lamp selection of an LED trim type upgrade to a fixture retrofit to meet the requirements of the City of Los Angeles and the National Electrical Code.

In the parking garage and loading dock, two-lamp tandem T8s—each with four, 32-watt (W) T8s—provided the existing lighting. The team replaced the old exhaust-coated lamps with high-output, lateral-distribution vaportight T5 fixtures, which provided a more uniform light distribution. 

“Even though we removed 50 percent of the fixtures, the light level increased, creating a safer and more appealing look throughout the structure,” Zickovich said. “The choice also resulted in a higher level of even lighting in the loading dock, mitigating complaints from delivery drivers who had experienced difficulties when backing their trucks into the dock area.” 

On the lobby level were a total of 16 chandeliers, 12 in the ballrooms and four in the other areas, with approximately 1,900 lamps among them. O’Bryant Electric replaced inefficient 40W incandescent lamps with 4W LED lamps, reducing the wattage collectively by 67,000W. In addition, O’Bryant replaced 500W incandescent flood lights in the ballrooms with 23W narrow-flood LEDs. 

“That produced an overall better light level and visual impact on the carpet, wall coverings and chandelier glass itself,” Zickovich said. “An added benefit to power reduction in these areas will be reduction of future maintenance costs, since these lamps boast a 25,000-hour lamp life and produce less heat for the hotel to have to offset with their air conditioning.”

In the back-of-house areas, which included freight lobbies, service corridors and kitchens, a retrofit upgrade of all early generation T8 lamps and ballasts took place. They were replaced with high-efficiency ballasts and 800 series 25W T8 lamps with a 50,000-hour life.

So cool!

Stepping out of its area of familiarity, O’Bryant Electric signed on to replace all of the in-hotel-room air conditioning fan motors with Gexpro-supplied 520 Regal Genteq Eon 42 electronically commutated motors that employ a heavy-duty rare-earth magnet (rather than dual electromagnets), resulting in reduced power consumption and less heat output. This motor also includes an integrated variable frequency drive (VFD) that allows the motor to run at a reduced speed while providing peak performance. 

“We designated a specific crew to perform this task,” Zickovich said. “Providing a retro or lamp upgrade in a hotel suite is one thing, but tackling the unknowns of a fan-motor replacement introduced a whole new challenge.”

As a result of the motor replacement, each guest room’s heating and cooling can now be individually controlled.

“Scheduling was a huge part of the project,” he said. “The project foreman and the hotel room coordinator were in contact daily, working in four-hour increments to alert us as to where our electricians could work, which allowed us to move through the tower of over 400 suites in less than 30 working days.”

O’Bryant established a mobile prep station that gave its crews the ability to shift easily to vacant rooms on different floors when they didn’t have full-floor access because of occupancy. The station also allowed for splitting of duties. While some crews physically retrofitted each motor assembly remotely, other crews removed and replaced the housing assemblies.

Finally, the Hilton made the decision to upgrade its elevators with state-of-the-art equipment that regenerates power while the car is in motion. Working in concert with LiftTec, O’Bryant Electric provided the power reconfiguration to the new elevator controllers, along with the machine room lighting and utility power modernization.


The resulting project, far beyond the Hilton Los Angeles/
Universal City’s original vision, was a win for all parties. ReNewAll accomplished its public policy goal to reduce carbon emissions.

“We develop projects in line that create good jobs, that are sustainable, that decrease carbon emissions because of energy efficiency, and create and store green energy,” said Joe Berney, ReNewAll co-founder and managing partner. “ReNewAll offered several financing models to the hotel so that the cost of financing is always less than the money the property is saving as a result of the decreased energy use. As a result, it costs the building owner nothing to do an energy-efficiency upgrade. We typically identify for building owners how much money they will lose by not doing the work.”

Hilton representatives chose PACE as its financial program from among the programs ReNewAll offers. 

“The PACE financial program allows a company, in this case the Hilton, to undergo retrofit work on a building, and instead of having it affect their capital budget, they can take those monies and pay them on the property tax bill spread out over a subscribed amount of time, 20 years in this case,” said Mike Bahr, co-founder and managing partner, ReNewAll. “Instead of having to write a check for $8 million when the project is complete, they are able to spread that out over time. The money is not on their balance sheets but is paid in small increments on their property taxes.”

The energy-efficiency project was beneficial to the hotel in another way. 

“It was great that the Hilton reached out because they were evaluating third-party certifications to validate and guide their sustainability actions,” said Marc Costa, program manager of The Energy Coalition and former USGBC-LA board member. “Since the USGBC-LA developed the LEED rating system, it made sense to reach out to the local Los Angeles chapter to see what resources were available.

“As an additional byproduct, the hotel pursued LEED certification, as well as took advantage of utility rebates, as well as the Los Angeles County PACE program that was created during ARRA [American Recovery and Reinvestment Act] funding. ReNewAll was able to secure approximately $1 million in utility and federal rebates and tax incentives for Hilton Los Angeles/Universal City.”

The financing suited the hotel’s requirements. 

“PACE is the only funding mechanism that is credible in providing verifiable information to our investors and, therefore, is the ideal tool for us to move forward in becoming the gold standard in sustainable hotels,” said Mark Davis, Hilton Los Angeles/Universal City general manager.

The project was a win for O’Bryant Electric as well.

“There’s lots of talk by people who say they will get involved in these sorts of efficiency projects, but it’s usually done piecemeal instead of as an orchestrated effort as we did,” Zickovich said. “This was the first project organized in this way. Rather than looking at one measure, they looked at multiple ones, integrating measures beyond electrical ones such as window film and a chiller upgrade. We were proud to be part of it.”

Contracted to develop PACE projects in every commercial program in California, ReNewAll continues to reach out to companies and hopes to expand into other areas of the country. In addition, based on the model of what happened with the Hilton, the USGBC-LA has initiated a new program: Energy and Water Ambassadors. 

“The program is free to participating building owners and mirrors the Hilton project,” said Dominique Smith, executive director, USGBC-LA. “After an energy audit of the property, the USGBC-LA provides an analysis of what could be improved to save energy and funds and then offers a financial model, one similar to but not limited to the PACE program.”

While the cost of the Hilton project was $7 million (including PACE program and financing costs), the return on the hotel’s investment was 78 percent with a total property value increase of $30 million (per current appraisal). 

“There has been a significant impact since we installed high-efficiency fan motors in all the guest rooms, put in a new building automation system, a new temperature-control system and high-performance window film,” the Hilton’s Thompson said. “Our complaints of rooms being too hot went down dramatically. We’ve raised our Energy Star rating to be more current with today’s standards and, since the upgrade, we’ve managed to reduce our electrical consumption about 27 percent per month.”

About The Author

CASEY, author of “Women Heroes of the American Revolution,” “Kids Inventing!” and “Women Invent!” can be reached at [email protected] and





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