In most restaurants the big energy user is your exhaust hood because it sucks out all the cool air you need to keep your kitchen tolerable during summer months. Thankfully, along with efficient cooking equipment has come a new generation of super-efficient exhaust hoods. These hoods use high-efficiency filters 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.
If you invest in only one energy saving item, it should be demand ventilation. The system consists of a control that mounts to your exhaust hood to send a signal to the fan to regulate the amount of air being exhausted. Some types measure the heat coming into the hood and throttle back the exhaust fan when temperatures change. Other systems may use an electric eye to sense 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, these demand ventilation systems will cut in half the amount of conditioned air being removed from the kitchen. Demand ventilation has one of the best paybacks of any energy saving device you could buy. Savings for a mid-sized establishment will almost certainly be in the thousands of dollars. The systems also require a variable speed fan, which not all hood systems have, so you'll need to have your ventilation specialist check the system out before investing. Do the math to see what savings there may be to use this sort of system.
Your restaurant's 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 is more energy efficient than gas or conventional electric heat.
These small 14-inch square countertop or in-counter units work like this: A power supply generates 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 superfast, induction units are also super-efficient because nearly all of the electrical energy consumed is converted to heat in the pan. 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. And the great thing is almost no energy is consumed when nothing is cooking. No more forgetting to turn off the burners.
Aside from induction, look at some of the newer energy efficient ovens, steamers, and fryers. If you have older models of these cooking items, you can probably find some significant energy savings by buying replacements.
Dishwashing is another area of intensive energy and water usage. Manufacturers are aware and have developed new technology in the past few years to cut energy and water usage. One of the biggest introductions is the new final rinse spray nozzle developed by several manufacturers. These simple nozzles create a spray pattern that provides dish coverage using less water. The impact is incredible. Water booster heaters that used to be over 50KW can be cut to under 30KW. Along with the electrical savings, water consumption is cut to well under one gallon per rack.
Other new provisions like insulated wash-and-rinse tanks are becoming more popular as energy prices soar. Heat reclaim systems are starting to pop up on machines as well. 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. Teach your staff to turn off the lights in the walk-in or storeroom when they leave. Or better yet, 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 (www.energystar.gov/index.cfm?c=products.pr_find_es_products ) 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 energy-efficient equipment. Those rebates, especially if your operation is in California or New York, can be substantial — up to $500 and even $1,000 for purchasing a listed equipment piece.
Another reason for all the interest in energy efficiency beyond just dollars and cents is being a good citizen when it comes to taking care of the environment. Green Buildings are about the materials used in construction and how energy is conserved. The USGBC administers the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Green Building Rating System, a voluntary 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 to get points that contribute to getting the certification.
There are many more great energy saving equipment and ideas out there. Start to look at your kitchen now to stay ahead of the trend and save energy cost dollars while you are at it.
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 (email@example.com).