Interviews

The world’s first zero-energy hotel

We go behind the scenes at Hotel Breeze to discover how innovative eco processes are powering the Amsterdam-based property

From natural ventilation courtesy of the wind to shower water heated by sunlight, Hotel Breeze is raising the bar for property sustainability. Click. caught up with Pieter Sannen, Group Operations Director, to discover the opportunities and considerations of running the world’s first zero-energy hotel. 

Click.: What was the idea behind Hotel Breeze?

Sannen: The hotel was developed by Amstelius/Dutch Green Company in association with Borghese Real Estate and is based on a concept devised by Dr. Ben Bronsema - an engineer with a life-long career in designing air-conditioning systems. At 77, Bronsema started thinking about ways he could continue his work in a more sustainable way, as traditional air conditioning systems cost a lot of energy. He started studying African termite mounds which always stay the same temperature inside despite extreme changes in external climate. The termites do this by constantly opening and closing doors on various corridors, which controls the air flows and acts as a natural air conditioner. 

As a result of this discovery, the Earth, Wind and Fire (EWF) concept was born and subsequently became the subject of Bronsema’s PhD at the Delft University of Technology. Upon completion of his studies, he looked for a party interested in making it work in a real building and that’s how Hotel Breeze came about - the first property in the world to be built according to the EWF principle. 

Click.: In practice, how does the EWF concept work?

Sannen: All of the energy we use in our 195-room building is produced by the hotel. The outside of the building is covered with solar panels which provide direct energy for the hotels. We also control the temperature of the hotel (keeping it at 20C) and warm the water for the showers using natural processes. For example, we have a solar chimney that collects and warms the outside air. We then filter, cool, heat or dry the air as needed with the assistance of water mist before distributing the clean air throughout the building. Any captured heat we don’t use is stored for when it’s needed. 

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Hotel Breeze
'All of the energy we use in our 195-room building is produced by the hotel'. Photo by Hotel Breeze

 

Click.: What were some of the challenges of bringing this concept to life?

Sannen: There were some restrictions we came across. For example, we have a shower in each room that circulates the water during the duration of each shower. After the water drains, it goes back up through filters before coming back out the shower head - staying warm the whole time. During this cycle, 80% of both water and energy is saved. They are currently operating as normal showers, however, because everything that comes out of a tap in a hotel room needs to be drinking water and that’s not proven for this technology yet. Once it is, we will be able to save even more energy. 

Also, having to think about everything in a sustainable way can definitely cost a lot more time and effort. For example, we don’t serve orange juice because all of our menu options are locally-sourced and oranges aren’t grown the Netherlands. Instead, we offer other great juice alternatives. 

Click.: Beyond the zero-energy concept, how else does Hotel Breeze operate sustainably?

Sannen: Before we do anything, we always ask ourselves ‘how can we do this in the most sustainable way’? All of our glasses are made of recycled wine bottles, the flowers around the hotel are locally grown, and certain pieces of furniture are made from plastic collected from Amsterdam canals. All of our food is locally-sourced and we don’t do buffet breakfasts because we don’t want additional food waste. For the food waste we do generate, we have a composter and within 24 hours we have solid ground which we use for our plants.

When you choose to operate in the most sustainable way, you have to consider everything. You can’t just buy new furniture, each piece needs to have a story. I would say at least 50% of the items we have in this hotel have a story to tell. For example, the sheets in our rooms are reborn linen which is made of the cut-offs from the factory, and the pear trees outside were saved from being discarded because they don’t produce pears anymore.

What we try to show our guests is that when you choose green, you don’t have to give up luxury. Our rooms are just as luxurious, but with a sustainable touch. Increasingly, travellers are becoming more aware of their environmental impact, so sustainable alternatives should be an important consideration for all companies. 

 

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Hero image: credit to American Public Power Association, Unsplash
Takeaway
  • Hotel Breeze was built around a concept called 'Earth, Wind and Fire' that was developed by Dutch designer and engineer Dr. Ben Bronsema 
  • EWF uses natural methods to create ventilation and power, improving the energy and cost efficiency of buildings
  • Hotel Breeze makes use of solar panels, a solar chimney and water filtration systems to further enhance the hotel's zero-energy credentials
  • The hotel also prioritises sustainability when it comes to the likes of furnishings and F&B sourcing

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