| A new generation of ovens has brought speed and energy efficiency to many onsite kitchens. |
Without a doubt, energy costs are a hot industry topic today. The good news is that foodservice operations that invest strategically can often cut utility costs 10 to 30 percent without sacrificing service, quality, style or comfort—while making significant contributions to a cleaner environment at the same time. Here are a few equipment items that can get you on your way to savings.
First of all, if you are not using induction cooking equipment where it is applicable, you may be missing out. Induction is generally more energy efficient than gas or conventional electric heat. These small, approximately 14 inch square countertop or in-counter units use a power supply to generate a magnetic field around a coil located under the ceramic top of the unit.
When an iron or magnetic metal pan is placed in the magnetic field, currents are induced in the cooking utensil and instant heat is generated due to resistance of the pan. Heating is instantaneous and can be regulated by output control buttons.
In addition to being superfast, induction units are also super efficient as nearly all of the electrical energy consumed is converted to heat in the pan. And the best thing about them is that almost no energy is consumed when nothing is cooking. And because almost all the power consumed goes directly into the pan and not into the surrounding area, air conditioning and hood exhaust requirements are often less than when using conventional cooking sources.
There has also been a lot of innovation in high speed ovens. High speed ovens use multiple heating methods in the same piece of equipment and usually improved or new forms of cooking technology. They combine the best features of the convection oven, microwave oven and impingement oven to create some of the fastest quality food producing units ever introduced. They can cook a wide variety of products and cook them faster than anything previously on the market. They promise to deliver food so fast it will change the way operators think about producing food.
Because of patents on the new technology each company has its own twist on how to engineer these ovens to do their job best. One popular style made by several companies, uses forced air in a manner similar to that of an impingement oven and augments this with microwaves. Super heated air is forced over the food to brown the outside for taste and appearance. At the same time microwave energy penetrates the food and heat it through before the circulated air can penetrate.
Another hybrid oven also uses microwaves but combines this approach with high intensity light wave energy. Others use infrared radiant heat in addition to other heating sources. Each of these approaches offers extremely fast cook times.
New fryer designs have also demonstrated significant improvements in energy efficiency. Electric fryers are already typically very efficient since the heating element is submerged directly in the frying medium, with very high electricity to heat conversion and heat transfer. But significant improvements have been in gas fryer burner design.
Historically gas fryers have not been very efficient. In a typical design, gas is ignited in tubes running through or around the frying vat, and this allows much of the heat to escape directly up the flue. New designs impart much more of the heat to the cooking medium. Manufacturers are also providing better insulation around the fry vats to retain more heat. Fryers that earn the Energy Star must meet a minimum cooking efficiency of 50% for gas and 80% for electric units.
Many operators do not think of exhaust hods as traditional “equipment,” but they are big-time energy hogs because they suck up a lot of the air you have spent energy dollars to cool down in kitchens in the warm weather.
In fact, more energy dollars are used to conditioning air that is then dumped outside than by just about any cooking equipment item. Now, a new generation of super efficient exhaust hoods and ventilators have changed some of the traditional thinking on the amount of air that needs to be exhausted from cooking equipment. These hoods use high efficiency filters or engineered designs to take advantage of the flow of thermal air currents to keep the amount of air wasted to a minimum.
Don’t expect this technology, all shrouded in stainless steel, to come cheap, though. Expect to pay up to $1,000 per foot of hood length for some of these units. Operators need to need to do the math and carefully evaluate the payback on such systems before investing in them.
A good way for operators to select energy efficient equipment is to look for Energy Star qualified equipment. Currently you can find qualified fryers, hot food holding cabinets, commercial solid door refrigerators and freezers, and steamers with this certification. Such items can save as much as 50% of the energy or resources over their conventional counterpartsand a growing number of states and municipalities are offering rebates through utility companies to operators who purchase them Those rebates, especially if your operation is in California or New York, can be substantial.
Environmental concerns are another reason for all the interest in energy efficiency. Green buildings are all the rage in the building industry today. There are green dining halls on some college campuses and green hotels pitched to upscale consumers. Green Buildings are about the materials used in construction but also about how energy is conserved.
The U.S. Green Buildings Council administers the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Green Building Rating System, a voluntary certification program that defines high-performance and energy saving green buildings. Buying energy saving kitchen equipment is one way among many to get points that contribute to getting the certification.
We expect to see more innovations and much more discussion about energy conservation in the coming months. Start to look at your kitchen now to stay ahead of the trend and save some energy cost dollars while you are at it.