Restaurants typically use five to 10 times the energy per square foot of many other businesses. That's a lot of energy savings potential if you make the right investments and decisions. Luckily, saving energy in foodservice operations is getting easier than it was only a few years ago.
Start with the biggest energy user — your exhaust hood. It sucks a lot of the air you spend energy dollars to cool out your kitchen. A new generation of exhaust ventilators has changed some of the traditional thinking about the amount of air that needs 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.
Also 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 ventilation needs. Demand ventilation controls could reduce your exhaust system costs by 30 to 50 percent and can be installed on either new equipment or retrofitted to existing hoods. Annual 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 designed with innovative components such as ECM evaporator and condenser fan motors, hot gas anti-sweat heaters and high-efficiency compressors. All of these significantly reduce energy consumption and utility bills.
Another innovation that promises substantial savings is heat reclamation. One type of system that is worth investigating can be used to reclaim the heat produced by refrigeration systems of refrigerators, freezers, icemakers and HVAC equipment. Another is now featured on some dishwashers, and uses exhausted waste air and, in some cases, waste water, to preheat water for the machines.
Other recent improvements to dishwashing systems also save energy and water usage. One of the biggest changes has been is the final rinse spray nozzle. A nozzle adaptation 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. Provisions like insulated wash and rinse tanks are also becoming more popular. 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.
Here are other ways you can improve your energy efficiency:
Replace old incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescents. Check your walk-in refrigerators, kitchen ventilation hoods, and other areas where you now have light bulbs. For further cost savings, put lights on a timer. Older linear fluorescent fixtures can also be updated to use newer more efficient T8 or T5 bulbs.
A new high-efficiency pre-rinse 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. The latest models are also 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 wasted water, sewer and water heating costs.
Develop a preventative 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.
Keep equipment properly tuned and calibrated. The performance of kitchen equipment changes over time and thermostats and control systems can fail or fall out of calibration.
Make sure equipment start up and shut down schedules are established and followed. Remind your staff to turn off the lights and cooking equipment when not in use, close refrigerator doors and turning off water faucets fully.
Dan Bendall ([email protected]) is a principal of FoodStrategy, a Maryland-based consulting firm specializing in planning foodservice facilities. He is a member of Foodservice Consultants Society International.