Energy savings, sustainability, green operations, LEED certified: Those are the latest buzzwords. We all want to do the right things to help out the environment and we want to save money. Saving money is what you will do if you follow sound operating principals and furnish your kitchen with the right equipment. Buying equipment that uses less electricity, water and gas will help preserve our natural environment while reducing your energy bill.
According to Energy Star, a branch of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 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 foodservice industry does no useful work. These energy dollars lost because of inefficient appliances are often wasted in the form of excess heat, ventilation and refrigeration.
In the past few years, manufacturers have begun to develop more energy-efficient products to better serve foodservice operators. They are now incorporating technologies related to cooking, refrigeration and sanitation to achieve significant energy and water savings.
Restaurant operators who purchase their equipment wisely can cut energy costs 10 to 30 percent without sacrificing production capacity, quality or operating comfort. Energy Star estimates that outfitting a kitchen with the equipment it currently qualifies — and that's only six items — could save the typical restaurant owner approximately $2,500 annually in gas and electric bills. Besides saving gas and electricity, qualified steamers, icemakers 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 its website, including a complete listing of qualified equipment. Another big help is a variety of energy saving calculators that can estimate your operation's energy savings when updating with new energy-efficient models. The calculators allow you to plug in your local electric or gas rates or estimate using national averages. The calculators will also allow you to do life cycle-costing analysis on equipment. It even has a listing of many state-offered rebates and can calculate the impact of these when you purchase new equipment. For now, these are the six categories for which Energy Star rates equipment:
- hot food holding cabinets
- solid-door refrigerators and freezers
- steam cookers
- ice machines
Energy Star is starting to qualify griddles and convection ovens; that process should be completed this year. Energy Star will likely have standards for many more types of kitchen equipment in the future. Here are a few equipment types that will yield energy savings.
Induction cookers have been keeping food hot for years on buffet lines. They're also being used more frequently in the kitchen as production units. These cookers use a magnetic field to cook products with almost no wasted heat. There is little electrical draw on the unit unless it's in use. It's far more efficient than a gas-burner unit, which is often left to run all day.
Fryers also have seen steady improvements. 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. Traditionally, gas is ignited in tubes running through or around the frying vat, but this process allows much of the heat to escape directly up the flue. New designs force much more of the heat into 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 an Energy Star rating must meet a minimum cooking efficiency of 50% for gas and 80% for electric units.
Exhaust hoods are big-time energy hogs because they suck up all the air that you spend a lot of energy dollars to cool or heat depending on the season. Thankfully, there is now a new generation of super-efficient exhaust hoods that use high-efficiency filters and engineered designs to take advantage of the flow of thermal air currents. They reduce the amount of air waste dramatically.
Another item very much worth considering is a variable speed controller for the exhaust hood fan. It's relatively inexpensive when you consider the payback in energy savings, and most operations can add it to an existing hood system. The system uses sensors to detect the heat and smoke load inside the hood and reduce fan speed during idle, noncooking periods. In most cases the hood only needs to exhaust at full volume a small part of the day.
Also consider dishwashers that use a maximum of one water gallon per rack of dishes washed. Water usage in a dishwasher translates directly to the amount of electric power needed to heat the water quickly. Several manufacturers have found a way to reduce the amount of rinse water by developing special nozzles to extract the maximum heat from the water and transfer it to dishware. The result is a considerable reduction of power and water.
The most water-efficient steamers use a maximum of two gallons of water per hour. This usage applies to both gas and electric models of all sizes. Boilerless steamers are the most efficient and produce an adequate amount of steam quickly enough for most restaurant steamer needs. Look for the Energy Star-qualified units.
Ice machines that greatly conserve water 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. Look for smaller capacity machines that use no more than 30 gallons of water per 100 pounds of ice made.
More for your green to-do list
In addition to simply purchasing energy-efficient equipment, creating a greener environment means sourcing these items from nerby suppliers to cut down on gas and delivery costs; installing more windows, if possible, in kitchens to bring in natural light; using energy-efficient lighting for the artificial light you do need; using chemical-free cleaners; avoiding the use of polystyrene containers; and recycling paper, plastic, glass and metal.
These environmentally responsible facility characteristics can be found in the Leadership in Energy and Envionmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System that was created and is administered by the U.S. Green Building Council. LEED defines high-performance green buildings, which are more environmentally responsible, healthier and profitable than traditional facilities. The program is not mandatory but serves as a design guideline and validation of a building's green features.
Last but not least, recognize that energy efficiency is a long-term goal. You're not likely going to rip out your existing equipment or throw it away. But when it's time to replace existing equipment, do so with a more energy-efficient model. And you're probably not going to change your staff's habits overnight, but gradually they will start to turn off the oven when not in use or turn off the lights in the storeroom. One day, with good planning, you should see increasing equipment efficiency and staff awareness that will end up as a good thing for the environment and a good thing for your bottom line.
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. He can be reached at 240-314-0660.