Energy savings, sustainability, green operations and LEED certified are all the buzz words of our time. We hear them over and over and with increasing frequency. We all want to do the right thing to help out the environment. We all want to conserve. We don't want to contribute to pollution or global warming. Most of all, we all want to save money. Saving money is what you can do if you follow sound operating principals and furnish your kitchen with the right equipment. Buying equipment that uses less electricity, water and gas not only will help preserve our natural environment, but it also will save many expense line dollars as prices for energy and resources continue to escalate.
According to Energy Star, a branch of the US Environmental Protection Agency, the facts are that restaurants or facilities with commercial kitchens use roughly 2.5 times more energy per square foot than any other commercial building type. On top of that, as much as 80 percent of the $10 billion annual energy bill for the commercial food service industry does no useful work. These lost energy dollars are often wasted in the form of excess heat, ventilation, and refrigeration, or generated by inefficient appliances.
In the past few years, manufacturers have begun to develop more energy-efficient products to better serve foodservice operators. Manufacturers are now incorporating technologies related to cooking, refrigeration and sanitation to achieve significant energy and water savings.
Restaurants that purchase their equipment wisely can cut their energy costs 10 to 30 percent without sacrificing production capacity, quality or operating comfort — while making significant contributions to a cleaner environment. Energy Star estimates that by outfitting a kitchen with only the equipment they currently qualify — and that's only six categories — could save the typical restaurant owner approximately $2,500 annually in gas and electric bills. Besides saving gas and electricity, qualified steamers, ice makers, and dishwashers save a considerable amount of water dollars.
Energy Star offers a wealth of unbiased information. You can find a lot of help on their web site, including a complete listing of equipment they currently qualify. Another big help is a variety of energy saving calculators that can help you estimate your operation's energy savings when updating your kitchen equipment with new energy efficient models. The calculators allow you to use your local electric or gas rates, or to estimate using national averages. The calculators will allow you to do life cycle costing analysis on equipment. They even have a listing of many state offered rebates and can even calculate the impact of these when you purchase new equipment. The only unfortunate thing is that right now Energy Star only has qualified equipment in six categories:
We understand they are in the process of developing standards and qualifying griddles and convection ovens, which should be completed this year. Eventually, perhaps, Energy Star will have standards for many more types of kitchen equipment. Here are a few equipment types to look for energy savings.
Induction cookers have been around for years on buffet lines, where they work quite well to warm hot food in a dining room. Induction units are now being used more frequently 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. These features make induction a real electric cost miser.
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 transferred 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.
Your exhaust hood is a big-time energy hog because it sucks up all the air you spend a lot of energy dollars to cool down in kitchens in the warm weather or heat in the winter. A large amount of energy dollars are used conditioning air only to dump it right back outside. Thankfully, there is now a new generation of super efficient exhaust hoods. These new exhaust ventilators have changed some of the traditional thinking on the amount of air needed to be exhausted from cooking equipment by using high efficiency filters and engineered designs to take advantage of the flow of thermal air currents to keep the amount of air wasted to a minimum. Another item very much worth considering is a variable speed controller for the exhaust hood fan. This item may be one of the biggest energy savers you can get. It is relatively inexpensive when you consider the payback in energy savings and most operations can add it to an existing hood system. The system consists of a special computer controlled unit that reduces fan speed during idle, non-cooking periods using temperature and optic sensors to detect the heat and smoke load inside the hood. This is big savings because in most operations the hood only needs to exhaust at full volume a small percentage of the day. Savings here is in reducing the fan motor electrical usage and most importantly in reduction in volume of conditioned air exhausted from your building.
Look for a dishwasher that uses a maximum of one gallon of water per rack of dishes washed. There are a number of them on the market now, whereas only a few years ago, there were none. Big energy savings can be found if you purchase one of these new energy efficient dishwashers. Water usage in a dishwasher translates directly into large amounts of electric power needed to heat water up to the required temperatures quickly. Several 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 and transfer it to dishware. Machines with these nozzles yield considerable power reductions, not to mention water savings as well.
The most water efficient steamers use a maximum of two gallons of water an hour. This applies to both gas and electric models of all sizes. Boilerless steamers are most efficient and produce enough steam quickly enough for almost all steamer needs. Look for the Energy Star qualified units.
Water conserving ice machines are starting to pop up from several of the largest manufacturers. Look for machines promoting low water usage. The best larger volume machines use a maximum of 20 gallons of fresh water per 100 pounds of ice produced. You should look for smaller capacity machines that use no more than 30 gallons of water per 100 pounds of ice made.
All these equipment items mentioned above are great for a start, but when it comes to going green, it goes beyond reducing the amount of gas or electricity an operation uses. In addition to simply purchasing energy-efficient equipment, creating a greener environment will mean sourcing these items from suppliers within a 500-mile radius to cut down on gas and delivery costs; installing more windows, if possible, in kitchens to bring in more natural light; using energy efficient lighting for the artificial light you do need; it might mean using chemical-free cleaners; avoiding the use of polystyrene containers; and recycling paper, plastic, glass, and metal.
For more energy saving ideas check out the LEED Green Building Rating System created and administered by the U.S. Green Building Council.
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.