Induction units, like the wok at left, and high speed microwave-assisted impinger ovens like that above, are among new types of more energy efficient cooking equipment.
EFFICIENCY AND FAST RECOVERY, TOO. Improved equipment designs, like the heat exchanger in this gas fryer, achieve higher energy efficiency while still retaining fast oil temperature recovery.
Energy saving technologies are once again in the news and operators of all stripes seem to finally be paying attention to saving energy dollars in the kitchen. Many have taken on the cause of energy savings as an environmental issue, but most are reacting to big hits in the pocketbook from increases in electricity, gas, and even water rates in many locations.
For the past 25 years—as long as I have been in the industry—the pendulum has swung back and forth in terms of how willing operators have been to get on the energy saving bandwagon. Often, the initial enthusiasm many buyers have expressed was tempered when they faced the higher first costs that more efficient equipment typically entails.
Today, however, the dollars to be saved in utility costs are just too great to be ignored. A recent Energy Star study estimated that operators could increase profits by as much as one-third ($3.00 for every $10.00 in profit) if they saved 20 percent on energy costs. Add to this the interest many institutions have in making their operations "greener," and it means you have an environment where energy efficiency makes more sense than ever before.
At least one or two manufacturers of virtually every type of cooking equipment are making energy efficient upgrades to their equipment. Although most equipment types are seeing some efficiency in newer models, here are some of the highlights.
1. Induction cookers are becoming popular. They have been around for years on buffet lines where they work quite well to provide hot food in a cooler dining room environment. Induction units are now being used more in the kitchen as production units. These cookers use a magnetic field to create heat in a product with almost no wasted heat like that put off by a traditional gas flame. There is also almost no electrical draw on the unit unless there is a cooking vessel on the burner. The idle time energy usage contrasts sharply to gas burners that are often left on for hours on end when product is not being cooked.
2. Steady improvements have been made in fryer efficiency. Electric fryers are typically very efficient since the heating element is submerged in the frying medium. The real improvements have been in gas fryer burner design. Historically gas fryers have not been very efficient. Gas is ignited in tubes running through or around the frying vat but the typical design allows much of the heat to escape directly up the flue. New designs force much more of the heat to be imparted to the cooking medium, resulting in more efficient units. 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.
3. Compartment steamers are now a category included by Energy Star. Steam cookers that have earned the Energy Star listing are up to 60 percent more energy-efficient than standard models. Energy-efficient steam cookers that are listed compared to non-listed models offer shorter cook times, higher production rates, and reduced heat loss due to better insulation and more efficient steam delivery systems. In addition to saving electricity or gas energy, the qualified steamers also save water—up to 90 percent less when compared with standard models.
4. Steam kettles and braising pans are notorious for putting off a lot a waste heat from their heated surfaces. Some makers have introduced doubleskin structures to the pans and lids to reduce heat dispersion into the workplace. This innovation reduces energy consumption as well as not creating more heat than necessary to discomfort cooks.
5. Combi oven/steamers and microwave/convection ovens are another type of equipment making great strides in not only energy efficiency, but in production speed. By virtue of the speed of many of these units the cost to operate them per serving produced is lower than traditional ovens or even convection ovens. Some of the new super ovens on the market claim to cook 8-10 times as rapidly as a traditional oven. These new units are also made with the latest in efficient burners and heating elements. They are also well insulated for heat retention.
6. Other energy-saving equipment opportunities. We need to include exhaust hoods in the discussion along with cooking equipment. Hoods are one of the biggest users of energy and equipment technology has been and continues to be developed to reduce the amount of air needing to be exhausted. Hood manufacturers are coming on line with new super efficient hoods to reduce air quantities to a minimum. Scientifically engineered hoods and strategically placed make-up air inlets have helped to reduce the amount of conditioned air volume exhausted. Another strategy is to reduce the overall air volume through a variable speed fan control and variable speed fan controls for hoods are rapidly becoming a common feature in kitchens. These controls monitor the air entering the hood and sense when no or little cooking is going on. In down times the control automatically reduces the air being exhausted, thereby saving you air conditioning costs.
Big energy savings can be found if you purchase one of the new energy efficient dishwashers. Large amounts of electric power are needed to heat water up to the required temperatures but a few manufacturers have found a way to reduce the amount of rinse water needed in their machines by developing special nozzles to extract the maximum heat from the water. Machines with these nozzles yield considerable power reductions and water savings as well.
Although not consuming as much energy as cooking equipment or dishwashers, ice makers and refrigerators are being engineered for electric and water savings as well.
If you are involved in new construction or major renovations, you may well hear more about "green" building requirements. Green buildings are about the materials used in construction, but also how energy is used and conserved in completed structures.
The USGBC administers the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Green Building Rating System, a voluntary building certification program that defines high-performance and energy saving green buildings. Many features go into having a building LEED certified. Buying energy saving kitchen equipment is one way among many to get points that contribute to getting the certification.
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 on the Energy Star web site at: http://www.energystar. gov/index.cfm?c=commercial_food_service. commercial_food_service. Each of the listed equipment items can save as much as 50% of the energy or resources over their conventional counterparts.
Also, if you are in the market for new equipment, a growing number of states, municipalities and utility companies are offering rebates to foodservice operators who purchase energy-efficient equipment. Those rebates, especially if your operation is in California or New York, can be substantial—several are up to $500 and even $1,000 for purchasing a listed equipment piece.
Dan Bendall is a principal of FoodStrategy, a Maryland-based consulting firm that specializes in planning foodservice facilities. A member of Foodservice Consultants Society International (FCSI), Bendall can be reached at 240-314-0660.
PHOTOS FROM ENODIS
PHOTO FROM ALTO-SHAAM