Farukh Aslam has figured out how to talk to technology, and it’s not only saving him money, but it could save the planet.
The CEO of Sinclair Digital LLC, who also is an engineer, found a way to totally revamp the power system of the Sinclair Hotel in downtown Fort Worth to save energy, resulting in lower utility bills and more sustainable energy. He touts what the Sinclair is doing as the future of power for homes and businesses across the world.
Energy generated using windmills and solar panels is generated as direct current energy. That energy is then inverted to alternate current energy to go into homes. After it is in homes, it has to be inverted, again, into DC energy for appliance use. All of these conversions end up in a loss of about 30% of the energy.
“What we are promoting is, let’s generate DC, let’s store DC and then let’s consume DC so you save 30% without doing anything else,” he said. “That’s the future, where homes are not connected to national grids or your utility, they’re off-grid and you come home in your electric car and connect that to your home charger and the car becomes an additional source of energy for your house.”
The system is called POE, or Power over Ethernet. Aslam uses ethernet cables, the same kind used to connect homes to Wi-Fi, throughout the hotel. Using these cables allows him to power the appliances, air conditioning and lights with low-voltage power.
He said Sinclair Digital already is working with companies in Connecticut, Alabama and California to design and install the technology in a hotel, assisted living facility and workforce housing center.
The Sinclair Hotel was first built in 1929 and was originally used as an office space. Aslam bought it back in December of 2013, and four years later, he started the power conversion process. It was completed in November of 2019 and opened its doors as a 164-room hotel.
Despite the need for more power when it became a hotel, the new power system still saves about 40% of what the building used to consume.
“When you compare this to other hotels our size — full-service hotels, with a restaurant on the premises — we are (…) very, very energy efficient,” he said. “It was to be designed as a sustainable hotel.”
How the technology works
All the conservation and sustainability were achieved with a building that is almost 100 years old and does not have the insulation newer buildings have. The hotel has kept its 1920s roots in the design to remain a historic landmark. Director of Sales Courtney Towson said it’s like “the Great Gatsby with Texas flair.”
It started with LED lighting. Aslam said the entire building has LED lighting, which conserves energy. But he then went deeper into the technology, learning more about how the low-voltage lights work.
“Your cars are low voltage. You can never be shocked in your car if you change out a bulb yourself, or if there are any naked wires in your car; if you touch them, you won’t be shocked,” he said. “But alternating current power in your homes, your outlets, are dangerous for you to touch, you cannot stick any metal into that outlet because you’ll be shocked.”
Most lights run on alternating current, or AC power because that is what is available in homes, offices and other buildings. What Aslam is learning is that most appliances, lighting, mechanical air conditioning and fire alarm systems are low voltage, direct current power.
“So, we can make our future homes very safe,” he said. “Our future business buildings, office buildings, all very safe, that is what we are pursuing now.”
AC power has to be converted to DC power for appliances; that conversion results in energy losses of about 15%, Aslam said. That energy comes out as heat, which is why a lightbulb gets hot if left on too long.
“In this project, there are over 7,000 light fixtures in this building,” he said. “They are supplied with DC power, so there are no 15% losses. You can grab a light, and it’s at room temperature. So, when 7,000 lights are not generating heat, your building’s air conditioning system doesn’t have to work as hard.”
It resulted in about $150,000 in savings on cooling installation alone. When a project is designed, Aslam said, a cooling capacity charge is added to offset the heat coming off the lights. Since the lights do not give off heat, that additional charge was not needed.
The Power over Ethernet system is what allows him to control appliances all over the hotel in a more centralized way, essentially communicating with the technology.
An ethernet cable is in most homes and it connects a Wi-Fi router to a service provider. Those are low voltage enough that they can be installed without shocking someone, Aslam said. Those cables are used throughout the Sinclair Hotel to power it.
“It’s a plug and play,” he said. “We are not stripping wire in the field and connecting them with screwdrivers and pliers. We’re simply plugging the connector that you do in your home or you’ve been doing on the side of your laptop. That’s how we made it so simple.”
Aslam is using technology that has been around for decades in a new way. As long as it is an LED light, he said, it can be powered with an ethernet cable.
“We learned it’s not just lights,” he said. “In this building, you have 750 motorized window curtains. You push a button, and a shade rolls up, the drapes open in the room, all those motors use this technology.”
Part of the motivation for using this technology is the ability to control it.
“You want to be able to dim the light, you want to be able to turn it off when nobody’s in the room. Those are called controls,” Aslam said. “Usually, there’s a parallel system that does that, and those are third-party systems that are very expensive. What we’re able to do is, using this technology, we’re also able to talk, communicate with the endpoint.”
Guests can open the motorized windows as much as they want, change the lighting of the room or use the TV, and all that communication is happening on the same cable.
“One click is not only bringing power, it’s also telling that device what to do,” Aslam said. “So, what is there to talk about with a minibar? A lot. I have a minibar in every room, I can read the temperature of every minibar in every room all the time.”
Additionally, Aslam was able to set it up so if the door of a minibar is left open in a room and the temperature starts to increase as cool air escapes, he gets an alert. That alert allows housekeeping to know and go into the room and close the door so it conserves energy.
The lighting can go from cool to warm throughout the day, it can dim and change, all by using the controls over the ethernet cable.
All of these controls are run by touchscreens in the rooms. There are touchpads at the entrance of all the rooms, in the bathrooms, in the mirror and by the toilet. Everything in the rooms can be controlled by the guests, from the lighting to the flush of the toilet.
The rooms also feature LG televisions that are custom made for the hotel. They are almost as thin as a credit card and attach to the walls magnetically. They are designed to run on the battery backup power instead of generators.
Michael Hennig, the city’s Economic Development Department’s strategic development coordinator, said this building is unlike anything the city has had to inspect and work with before.
“As the project evolved, that was when Farukh began to look at how he might be able to integrate some new technology,” Hennig said. “He was able to bring a really formidable team from across the country of different companies that operate in the smart building technology space. Fort Worth really became a working laboratory for smart building technology.”
That led to the city adjusting its practices for how it would permit and inspect a building that was different from anything it’s ever seen, he said.
“Instead of having a backup generator that runs on diesel, we were able to work with him to allow and permit lithium-ion batteries, similar to Tesla, to run the power backup,” Hennig said. “This is something that had never been done before, that the city had never permitted before. The benefit of all of this is that it really caused the city to grow its practices right alongside this project. Fort Worth, Texas, is as well-equipped as any city in the country to be able to work with and really permit this type of building.”
Who it helps
The system saves money, is good for the environment and is safer for the staff, Aslam said. It also is not any more expensive to install.
“People can come and stay here, and they don’t notice anything different,” Aslam said. “We are proving to you that your lives can be as normal as you’re used to. All the lights would come on, you open the minibar you can get a chilled water out — nothing will change.”
Using Sinclair Digital’s system is less expensive than using traditional alternative current power, Aslam said.
But it is not just about the money. The system also is sustainable and can cause a significant decrease in carbon footprints.
“Global warming is a real issue; in the last two weeks the heatwave in the West Coast and Canada is very scary,” Aslam said. “The Biden administration is pushing very hard on cutting down carbon footprints.”
It also is safer. By using low voltage power, Aslam said, the days of having to child-proof outlets will be gone because there will not be a risk of the children getting shocked.
In the hotel, the system is safer for the maintenance workers, because they do not have to worry about getting electrocuted with a low-voltage system.
The future of power
The ease, affordability and sustainability of the system all lead Aslam to believe it will only grow from here.
“We think this technology has been overlooked,” he said. “It existed, but nobody thought about using it this way. I think it’s going to take off. It’s already taking off on a big scale.”
Large companies like Microsoft, Pfizer and Google are using the LED lighting system in new facilities they are building, he said. But Aslam also thinks this technology is the future of air conditioning, televisions and all appliances.
“I think it’ll get accepted at an exponential rate,” Aslam said. “This was the best thing we did: install it in a Sinclair Marriott Hotel.”
Kristen Barton is an enterprise reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org