Two names top the list of organizations that want to help make your restaurant more energy efficient, more environmentally responsible and, as part of the process, more profitable.
One is the Energy Star initiative. It’s a joint effort of the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy. Consumers interested in energy efficiency know to look for the Energy Star logo on refrigerators, computers and other household equipment. The government is working to set standards for commercial kitchen gear, too. The idea is to help you evaluate your restaurant’s equipment from an energy usage perspective.
A second is the Consortium for Energy Efficiency (CEE) , a group comprised of representatives from large (Pacific Gas and Electric, San Diego County Water Authority) and small (Vermont Gas Systems, the Eugene, OR, Water and Electric Board) public utilities. The goal of CEE’s Commercial Kitchen Initiative is to help rate-payer-funded efficiency programs be more effective in helping people like you save energy.
It aims to do so by providing consistent definitions for a set of high-performance commercial kitchen equipment, looking at both energy and water usage. CEE members want to have a say in setting equipment performance specifications along with the government and the equipment manufacturers that actually make the machines.
The CEE has carved out an advisory role for itself, and backs it up with funding. In 2005, CEE members directed over 90 percent of what is dubbed “US ratepayer efficiency funding,” a pool of rebate money that reached $1.7 billion. The 2006 total should be more than $2 billion. Big rebate-granting locations are California, Illinois, New Jersey, the Pacific Northwest and the Southwest.
Who’s giving out what? Go to this site— http://www.energystar.gov/index.cfm?fuseaction=CFSrebate.CFSrebate_locator —to find out. On it, you’ll find 69 listings covering commercial fryers, commercial refrigeration and freezers, commercial hot food holding cabinets and commercial steam cookers.
The rebates are sizable. The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority kicks back $750 if you purchase an Energy Star qualified gas-fired steam cooker. The Energy Trust of Oregon gives you $600 when you buy a qualified gas fryer.
But are rebates like this enough to make a new equipment purchase a good deal for you? Sure, Energy Star-rated products will often come close to paying for themselves in energy savings over the life of the item. But you still have to put out the cash up front. How to decide? Head to www.energystar.gov/index.cfm?c=small_business.sb_restaurants for a breakdown of how your annual energy costs will drop if you take certain energy saving actions.
For example if you replace a 10- to 20-year old conventional dishwasher with an insulated dishwasher, you can reduce your annual energy cost by up to $400. If you replace it with an infrared gas dishwasher, your costs could fall $2,900 per year.
The CEE people say that energy consumption in a typical restaurant breaks down this way: 30 percent for cooking, 22 percent for space heating, 19 percent for refrigeration, nine percent for water heating, six percent for cooling, four percent of lighting and 10 percent for all other uses. If you went all-Energy Star equipment, your savings would total 10 to 30 percent. The good news here: Those savings all fall to the bottom line. Between front-end rebates and operating-life energy cost reductions, some new equipment may be more affordable than you think.
But maybe you want to create energy rather than use less of it. If that’s your wish, get in touch with Xenerga, an Orlando-based company that’s franchising alternative fuel plants. Pay the company’s $1.95 million franchise fee and you get a facility that can produce five million gallons a year of biodiesel using waste cooking oil as a feedstock.
The plant goes up in five days and takes only two people—a general manager and a driver—to operate. Getting a permit to put up a small-scale chemical refinery might be a challenge in some jurisdictions, but the political climate for alternative fuel generation has never been friendlier than it is today.
Would it be a good business? “You can never produce enough biodiesel,” says Xenerga C.E.O. Jason Sayers. “The problem isn’t finding customers; the problem is getting feedstock at a decent price, because without the feedstock, you can’t produce biodiesel.”
A problem for the Average Joe, but maybe less of one for a restaurant operator. For its pilot operation, Xenerga cut a deal with Restaurant Technologies, a Minnesota-based cooking oil management/service outfit whose customer base includes Chili’s, Applebee’s and McDonald’s. Xenerga says it has contracts with waste oil collectors to supply enough feedstock for 40 facilities.
The Xenerga people claim that when running at full capacity, one of these plants should produce gross profits of $2.5 million per year. That requires a lot of feedstock, so even if you don’t spring for one of these franchises, you’ll get top dollar for your waste cooking oil if someone else puts up a plant near you.