Some good bets for equipment that will yield the best energy savings.
There are many more great energy saving equipment units and ideas out there. Here are a few web sites for additional information on energy savings for your operation.
National Restaurant Association's Conserve Initiative
US Green Building Council
Consortium for Energy Efficiency's (CEE) Commercial Kitchens Initiative
Green Restaurant Association
PG&E Food Service Technology Center
Going green, sustainability and energy savings are the hot topics in our industry today. Dining operations want to be good, environmentally-friendly neighbor. We in the business want to save money and cut utility costs at the same time but without sacrificing the level of service, quality, or comfort provided to our customers. So how does a dining operation — as a building type, one of the biggest energy hogs — become energy efficient? Here are a few equipment items that can get you on the right track.
Start with the three biggest energy users in your operation.
In most kitchens the big-time energy user is the exhaust hood, because it sucks out all the air you spend a lot of energy dollars to cool down in warm weather. More energy dollars are wasted to condition air and then dump it right outside than by any cooking equipment item.
Thankfully, 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 wasted air to a minimum. Don't expect this technology, all shrouded in stainless steel, to come cheap though. Expect to pay top dollar for these high efficiency ventilation units.
If you only invest in one energy saving item, it should be demand ventilation. Such systems consist of a control that mounts to your exhaust hood to send a signal to the fan to regulate the amount of air being exhausted. There are several types on the market. Some measure the heat coming into the hood and throttle back the exhaust fan when temperatures change. Other systems use an electric eye to sense the smoke in the air to ramp the fan up or down depending on the clarity of the air. Some systems use variations or both methods.
Typically the control will vary the exhaust rate down to about 50% of the design exhaust rate, halving the amount of conditioned air being removed from the kitchen. Savings for a mid-sized establishment will almost certainly be in the thousands of dollars and demand ventilation has one of the best paybacks of any energy saving device you can buy. The systems also require a variable speed fan, which not all hood systems have, so you will need to have your ventilation specialist check your system before investing. You will need to do the math to see what savings you may have.
Cooking equipment is another big energy user. In most locations gas (natural or LP) is less expensive than electricity. But there is one electric cooking item that wins in the energy savings category while delivering great production — induction cooking. It is more energy efficient than gas or conventional electric heat.
These small, approximately 14 inch square countertop or in-counter units generate a magnetic field through 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 very fast, induction units are also super efficient as nearly all of the electrical energy consumed is converted to heat in the pan. And when nothing is cooking, almost no energy is consumed. In addition, since almost all the power consumed goes directly into the pan and not into the surrounding area, air conditioning and hood exhaust requirements may be less than when using conventional cooking sources.
Aside from induction, look at some of the newer, energy efficient ovens, steamers, and fryers. If you have older models of these cooking units, you can probably find some significant energy savings by buying replacements.
Dishwashing is another area of intensive energy and water usage and manufacturers have developed new technology in the past few years to reduce usage in both areas. New final rinse spray nozzle developed by several manufacturers create a spray pattern that provides dish coverage using much less water, meaning that water booster heaters that used to be over 50KW can now often be only 30KW.
Along with the electrical savings, water consumption is cut to well under one gallon per rack. This substantial change in technology has occurred just within the past five years. Other new provisions like insulated wash and rinse tanks are also becoming more popular as are heat reclaim systems. If you have a dish machine that's more than a few years old, it would be beneficial to look at the new equipment out there and do a comparison energy audit.
Are there any ways to get more energy efficiency without spending any money? Surprisingly, some excellent energy savings come free. Lots of savings can be had by just instilling a few basics in your staff through training. For example:
Teach them to turn off the lights in the walk-in or storeroom when they leave.
Better yet, for a small cost put the lights on a timer or use new high efficiency CFL light bulbs or LED lighting.
Make sure to close refrigerator doors after they are used.
Don't turn cooking equipment on and leave it on when it is not being used immediately.
Make sure water faucets are turned off fully.
A good way for operators to select energy efficient equipment is to look for Energy Star qualified equipment. The list of types of equipment is growing. Check the Energy Star web site (see sidebar) for a list of what models of equipment qualify.
One of the additional benefits of using Energy Star equipment is that a growing number of states and municipalities are offering rebates through utility companies to foodservice operators who purchase equipment in certain Energy Star categories. Those rebates, especially if your operation is in California or New York, can be substantial.
Another reason for all the interest in energy efficiency (and in a broader way, in the Green Building movement) goes beyond dollars and cents. It just makes sense to be a good citizen when it comes to taking care of the environment. Green Buildings are not only about the materials used in construction but also about how energy is conserved.
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, but buying energy saving kitchen equipment is one way among many to get points that contribute to getting the certification.
Dan Bendall is a principal of FoodStrategy, a Maryland-based consulting firm specializing in planning foodservice facilities. He is also a member of Foodservice Consultants Society International. Bendall can be reached at 301-233-5226.