Trend watch: Energy- and water-efficient tips and equipment innovations

It’s no surprise that, according to ENERGY STAR®, restaurants are the most energy-intensive commercial buildings in the United States – using about 5 to 7 times more energy per square foot than offices or retail stores. However, most commercial kitchen equipment is energy-intensive.

When it comes to H2O, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) asserts that hospitality and foodservice operations make up approximately 15 percent of the total commercial and institutional water use in the United States – the majority of that coming from the kitchen.

Slim profit margins across foodservice segments mean that a moderate reduction in utility costs has a big impact.

Furthermore, government regulations continue to put more pressure on equipment manufacturers and foodservice operators – like the EPA’s prohibition of certain refrigerants, for example. California’s Title 24 is another example, with new revisions every three years to better reduce wasteful and unnecessary energy consumption in new or existing buildings.

And while most foodservice operators are at least taking steps to reduce energy and water usage, success requires near-constant evolution.

Equipped to save

The latest equipment has come a long way toward energy efficiency in the last several years. Choosing ENERGY STAR-certified products is an obvious way to take advantage, but that’s far from the silver bullet.

Chef cooking in kitchen stoveTodd Bell, Senior Energy Analyst at the FSTC, estimates that the vast majority of energy-efficient equipment actually performs BETTER than predecessors (and certainly delivers higher long-term ROI), but it’s important to compare specs. Equipment design changes made to obtain ENERGY STAR certification may test fine in lab scenarios, but fall short during real-world applications – adding time to cooking processes or failing in the face of environmental factors. The FSTC’s website has a plethora of testing information and lifecycle calculators to help you make the most informed decision.

Bell also pointed out that while some categories of equipment more easily achieve powerful operation and energy savings, others are still evolving. This makes staying on top of the latest technologies even more critical. And making an informed purchase decision is just the foundation. Heed these expert tips:

  • Think about how the equipment fits into the environment. During the design and planning stages, kitchen workflow is essential. Placing equipment for maximum energy efficiency, however, is usually a lower priority. At the very least, confirm that equipment elements, such as condensers, have adequate airflow and that mission-critical components are easily accessible for maintenance.
  • Don’t cut corners during installation. Installation blunders – using inappropriately sized gas or water lines, for instance – can force equipment to work harder, cancelling out inherent energy savings. Spend the extra money or time for superior installation and you’ll reap long-term benefits.
  • Prioritize upgrades. Rome wasn’t built in a day; similarly, energy and water efficiency is an ongoing, gradual initiative that takes commitment and patience. Overhauling your whole kitchen at once is not only cost prohibitive, but can also be unnecessarily overwhelming. Bell names archaic broilers as one of the biggest energy hogs, and therefore a top candidate for replacement. Manufacturers are developing ever-more efficient gas broilers, which not only save in energy during operation, but also create less radiant heat and contribute to A/C savings. Meanwhile, dishwashing equipment should be a priority when it comes to water savings.
  • Rethink cooking methods. Bigger energy savings might require outside-the-box thinking. For example, switching to a cook-hold system for meats (versus cooking and then transferring to holding equipment) can cut energy use for that application in half. According to ENERGY STAR, ovens tend to be more efficient than rotisseries; while griddles might be an alternative to broilers. If the switch won’t compromise food quality (or perhaps would enhance it!) it’s worth the investigation.

Old habits die hard

Turn off fryer during slow times

Like many other operational inefficiencies, human error can be to blame for bloated energy and water bills. Training managers and employees on how to properly use energy-efficient equipment to make the most of it is a must. Furthermore, managers can be tasked with keeping an on/off schedule for certain equipment: turning off a third fryer during slow times, for instance.

Get smart

As with anything, the more data at your disposal, the more efficient the resulting plan of attack. That’s why many operators – particularly large foodservice operations – are partnering with sustainability and energy consultants to identify weaknesses and opportunities.

But you don’t have to have multiple locations or deep pockets to reap the benefits of data. Many energy companies are offering smart meter technologies that can allow you to drill down and identify equipment/application-specific energy drains, or times of day during which your utility bill takes a beating.

Speaking of smart technologies, that seems to be the latest trend in energy efficient equipment. Here are some things we’re seeing:

  • Smart ventilation systems that use photoelectric smoke or heat detection to “decide” when and at what speed to run exhaust fans
  • Cook-and-hold technologies (already a boon for energy efficiency) that can be programmed to automatically switch to “hold” mode after cooking; some even record cooking times for easier food safety documentation
  • Cutting-edge conveyor belt ovens that have technology that senses down time and lowers its temperature and belt speed accordingly

See the latest energy- and water-saving equipment and supplies – all in one place – The NAFEM Show