Restaurants typically use between 5 to 10 times more energy per square foot than many other businesses. That's a lot of energy savings potential if you make the right investments and decisions. Luckily for us, saving energy in restaurants is getting easier than it was only a few years ago. Here are a few equipment items that can get you on your way to savings.
Start with the biggest energy user — your exhaust hood. It sucks out all the air you spend a lot of energy dollars to cool down in your kitchen. Thankfully, a new generation of super efficient exhaust hoods is available. These new exhaust ventilators have changed some of the traditional thinking on the amount of air needed 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.
Along with an energy saving hood, consider investing in demand ventilation, which has one of the best paybacks of any energy saving device you could buy. It uses sensors to monitor your cooking and varies the exhaust fan speed to match your ventilation needs. Demand ventilation controls could reduce your exhaust system costs by anywhere from 30 to 50 percent and can be installed on either new equipment or retrofitted to existing hoods. Savings for a mid-sized establishment will almost certainly be in the thousands of dollars.
Refrigeration equipment is another area that has seen great improvements in efficiency over the past few years. The latest equipment is more energy efficient because it is designed with innovative components such as ECM evaporator and condenser fan motors, hot gas antisweat heaters and high-efficiency compressors, all of which will significantly reduce energy consumption and utility bills.
Also, look for some new innovations that promise to produce substantial savings across several pieces of equipment. This technology consolidates refrigeration, air conditioning and heating and claims to capture all the recoverable waste heat. This type of system can be used with all the refrigerators, freezers, icemakers and HVAC equipment to realize substantial energy savings in even midsize operations.
Manufacturers have developed new technology in the past few years to cut dishwashing energy and water usage. One of the biggest introductions is the new final rinse spray nozzle. This simple nozzle creates 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. If you have a dishwasher that's more than a few years old, it would be beneficial to look at new equipment and do a comparison energy audit. The latest in energy savings for dishwashers is heat reclaim systems, using exhausted waste air and, in some cases, waste water to preheat water for the machines.
There are other ways to get more energy efficiency without spending a lot of money. Here are some ideas you can put into practice now.
Replace any old incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescents. You'll likely have these in your walk-in refrigerators, kitchen ventilation hoods and other areas where you now have light bulbs. For further cost savings, put the lights on a timer. Compact fluorescents (CFL) also have a longer life and put out much less heat than their incandescent counterparts. Older linear fluorescent fixtures can also be updated to use newer more efficient T8 or T5 bulbs.
A new high-efficiency prerinse spray valve in your dishroom will only cost you a few hundred dollars, but will save hundreds of dollars each year and perhaps thousands of gallons of hot water, too. In case you had bad experiences with the early water-saving sprays a few years ago, the latest models are better than the old water hogs at scrapping dishes.
Fix water leaks immediately, especially hot water leaks. The cost of a plumber's visit will usually be more than offset by the wasted water, sewer and water heating costs that can add up to hundreds of dollars a year.
One of the additional benefits of using energy-saving equipment is that as many as 38 states are offering rebates through utility companies to foodservice operators. Those rebates can be substantial for purchasing a listed equipment piece. Start with the Energy Star website to identify the eligible equipment and rebates in your location.
Develop a preventive maintenance program to focus specifically on your refrigeration units. Keeping up with simple reach-in and walk-in refrigerator maintenance is sure to save money in the long run. Things to do include checking and replacing doors, cleaning evaporator and condenser coils regularly and monitoring the refrigerant charge.
Keep your equipment properly tuned and calibrated. The performance of your kitchen equipment changes over time. Thermostats and control systems can fail, fall out of calibration or be readjusted. Take the time to do a regular thermostat check on cooking and heating equipment.
When you do need to replace worn-out cooking and refrigeration equipment, be sure to check out the most energy-efficient models that meet your performance needs. Look for Energy Star-qualified models.
Lots of savings can be had by reminding your staff to turn off the lights and cooking equipment when not in use, close refrigerator doors and turn off water faucets fully.
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 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.
Dan Bendall is a principal of FoodStrategy, a Maryland-based consulting firm specializing in planning foodservice facilities. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Look at your kitchen now to determine where you might save energy dollars. Listed below are a few websites for additional information on energy savings for your restaurant operation.
Energy Star Products
Energy-Efficient Equipment Rebates
Energy Star Partner Equipment Dealers
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