The owner of Premier Inn plans to swap mains gas for heat pumps and solar panels at more than 800 of its hotels as it pushes for net zero.
The hotel chain, which is owned by Whitbread, one of the UK’s largest hospitality businesses, wants to remove mains gas connections wherever possible by 2040 to boost its green credentials.
As well as switching to heat pumps, which use electricity to capture heat from the air and transfer it inside or outside a property, and solar panels, it plans to install more energy-efficient kitchen equipment and move towards using renewable energy sources.
The company is close to completing work on its first all-electric Premier Inn in Swindon, which will have no connection to a natural gas supply and will be powered by equipment including Mitsubishi Q-ton heat pumps.
Ditching mains gas is one of a handful of initiatives by Whitbread designed to help the company – which also owns Beefeater steakhouses and Brewer’s Fayre pubs – reach net zero by 2050.
It also plans to transition its entire corporate car fleet to electric vehicles by 2030, and to work with a specialist food consultancy to crack down on “embedded” soy, which is commonly used in animal feed but has been linked to deforestation, in its supply chain.
Rosana Elias, head of sustainability at Whitbread, said: “We want to provide sustainable and affordable accommodation and dining options, allowing our guests to make choices that align with their values without having to compromise on the product and service they receive.”
She added: “We don’t claim to have all the answers now, but our plan will evolve over time and evolve as the technologies and policies that we rely on for success develop further.”
It comes as many hotel businesses are embracing green technologies as demand for more sustainable travel grows. A 2022 survey by Booking.com found 71pc of travellers were planning to make more effort to travel sustainably – a 10pc rise compared to 2021.
Like Premier Inn, the French hotel giant Accor has also said it wants to reach net zero emissions by 2050. It said it plans to use more energy-efficient materials in its buildings and reduce consumption by cutting back on air conditioning, reducing the availability of saunas and steam rooms, and shutting down minibars.
The push to net zero is happening at higher-end hotel companies too. Hilton, for instance, opened a 100pc electricity-powered and fossil fuel-free hotel, called Hotel Marcel, in Connecticut last year. With 1,000 solar panels covering its roof and two large battery rooms to store power, it claims to be one of the most environmentally friendly hotels in the world.
However, the heat pumps that form a core part of Whitbread’s plans for Premier Inn’s net zero push have proved controversial among British homeowners.
The Government is encouraging households to install the pumps as part of its own net zero plan for Britain, and has banned the like-for-like replacement of gas boilers from 2035 onwards. It is targeting 600,000 heat pump installations per year until 2028.
Heat pumps are touted as having lower running costs and a longer average service life by their proponents, as well as the top line environmental benefits of reducing carbon emissions by up to 70pc.
Yet critics point to the high cost of installing and maintaining the tech, which can reach well into the thousands of pounds (although the Government is currently offering £5,000 grants to homeowners that make the switch until 2025), and have argued they do not always lead to a significant reduction in bills. Worries have also been raised around their effectiveness in less-insulated homes.
According to Boiler Guide, a network of gas and heat pump engineers, approximately four in 10 households in the UK do not support the transition from gas to heat pumps.
Whitbread’s move comes as the company is exploring a potential sale of Beefeater and Brewers Fayre so it can focus on growing Premier Inn, amid concerns that poor food and drink sales are weighing on the wider business.