Volume 48, Number 2
Written By: Denise Deveau
[dropcap size=big]M[/dropcap]ost foodservice operators understand sustainable refrigeration options make sense. But, while many claim their priority is energy-efficiency, the decision often boils down to cost savings, says Janine Windsor, president of Leaders in Environmentally Accountable Foodservice (LEAF) in Victoria.
“The biggest things operators consider today when purchasing equipment are efficiency and cost. However, some are more concerned with short-term costs, so they end up choosing cheaper, less efficient models,” she says.
That’s not the wisest approach since refrigeration can account for six to 25 per cent of energy consumption, depending on the size and scope of the operation, Windsor says. “Once long-term savings are factored in, the most efficient models end up costing less over time,” she explains. “Overall, Energy Star or CEE (Consortium for Energy Efficiency) models are your best bet for efficiency.”
Refrigeration has come a long way in the past few decades. “We are now seeing LED lighting, less environmentally harmful coolants such as hydrocarbons (see “Hydrocarbon Ready” on p. 39) and simple technologies like timers that are making even fairly standard equipment much more efficient than it was 10 years ago.”
But buying new equipment is not always an option. Frank Pabst, executive chef at Blue Water Café in Vancouver, says the refrigeration system hasn’t changed in the more than 10 years he’s been at the restaurant. It includes a walk-in fridge, walk-in freezer and counter fridges from Quest Metal Works Ltd. in Vancouver. “We have changed compressors and coils, but for the most part they have held up well.”
At Beast Restaurant in Toronto, chef and co-owner Scott Vivian had to work with the refrigeration that was in place when he took over from a pre-existing restaurant, but he monitors output. “We make sure we have someone come in regularly to do routine maintenance and replace motors and condensers when needed,” he says.
Despite the small footprint, Beast has a full-size walk-in refrigeration unit as well as a stand-up and chest freezer in the basement. The upstairs kitchen is home to a two-door low-boy (i.e. countertop height) refrigerator with a tabletop work surface and another custom-designed low-boy that is eight feet in length and three-feet wide. The chef has his sights set on a new walk-in refrigerator but admits it’s a big project. “The one we have is not as well insulated as I would like. I also want one with a digital thermometer,” he says.
Brad Rosenberger understands the demands of a big refrigeration project. The operations coordinator for the School of Hospitality and Tourism, SAIT (Southern Alberta Institute of Technology) Polytechnic in Calgary, took years to create a sustainable refrigeration environment at his school. That includes everything from a major walk-in refrigeration overhaul to replacement programs for reach-in and blast chillers.
Some of the 17 walk-in refrigerators in the cooking labs date back to the 1970s. Older models are from U.K.-based Foster, while newer ones are from Norbec based in Boucherville, Que. The school also has a pass-through walk-in from St. Louis-based Master-Bilt.
Given the equipment’s age, there were problems. Many of the compressors were water-cooled, which meant paying for water coming in and going out of the system, Rosenberger explains. “We were wasting precious resources to cool ancient compressors, and they were extremely inefficient. Besides, when things went wrong it was getting harder to find parts, so repairs were getting expensive.”
Four years ago 12 compressors were replaced with a single, ultra-high-efficiency, air-cooled Protocol compressor/conde- nser system from St. Louis-based Hussman and installed by Chinook Refrigeration in Calgary. The system would pay for itself in five years through water and energy savings. The total cost of the equipment overhaul was $250,000.
The installation has reduced the walk-in refrigerators’ energy costs, and Rosenberger can now log on to the Protocol unit from his laptop to adjust temperatures and defrost cycles as well as pinpoint high-temp alarms; he can also print temperature graphs for the week. “We have noticed big savings, although that’s hard to quantify since the utility bills are for the entire building,” he says.
The SAIT team has also been working on a replacement program for the 25 refrigerators and 15 freezers in its cooking labs. “We [address] refrigeration systems with the biggest problems first and then spread out [other replacements] over years,” Rosenberger explains.
Reach-in units are being replaced with high-efficiency models from St. Louis-based True Manufacturing. The cost per reach-in unit is $3,500 to $4,000. SAIT also has a True three-door glass pass-through fridge. For its blast chillers, SAIT has Traulsen roll-in and reach-in systems, which are durable and perform well. Prices run from $12,000 for a single-door unit, up to $20,000, Rosenberger says.
Most of SAIT’s newer refrigeration models are stainless steel. “We bring in someone to strip old units down and salvage the stainless steel and copper. We make sure that when it’s time to throw it away, it gets fully recycled,” Rosenberger says.
Whether working with old or new systems, maintenance is key to ensuring top performance and longer life, affirms LEAF’s Windsor, echoing Beast’s Vivian. “Operators should always ensure maintenance is scheduled and conducted on time to catch inefficiencies like cold-air loss. That includes making sure gaskets, coils and interiors are clean and seals are tight. They should also check that temperatures are accurate and airflow is unobstructed.”
The biggest energy wasters in refrigeration are old and/or poorly maintained compressors and evaporators, adds Guillaume Lussan, designer and product manager with WSP Canada Inc., an engineering consultancy in Montreal. “Light energy can also release a lot of heat, which is why LED is preferred,” he says.
Simple mistakes such as leaving doors open too long, putting refrigerators in areas with direct sunlight or placing air curtains near a fresh air inlet, waste energy and create additional carrying costs.
Lussan advises operators install walk-in freezers inside walk-in refrigerators to allow for cold-air recovery. What’s more, air curtains on cold-room doors and self-closing doors limit the loss of cold air.
Beyond Energy Star ratings, energy-saving innovations such as network temperature control systems are available — they enable monitoring and control of cooling and defrost cycles. And, there are other options. “Doubled-glazed doors with LED lights are becoming an increasingly popular way to limit energy impact,” Lussan adds.
Whatever the choice, investing in energy-efficient equipment isn’t just about short-term gains. “Few purchasers consider their energy impact over time,” says Lussan. “They should always consider the long-term benefits before they buy.”