Power Play: Energy-Efficient Equipment and Beyond

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In a world of escalating operational costs and thinner margins, improving enercy efficiency is a constant goal for today’s operators. Whether it’s upgrading equipment, reconfiguring space or turning to multi-function appliances, there are plenty of options for restaurateurs to reduce energy costs even further.

It used to be that upgrading to new Energy-Star appliances was a number-1 priority. Now, Energy Star is merely a baseline from which manufacturers can apply more innovation to generate even more savings.

The latest combi-oven models are delivering significant improvements in energy efficiency, says Kevin Pelissier, national corporate chef for Rational Canada in Mississauga, Ont. “In general, our latest models are 30-per-cent more efficient than previous models.” Another energy-saving choice is gas-powered units, he adds. “Gas is a very big thing in Canada. When looking at replacing equipment online, gas is a better choice in most cases since you don’t have to rewire the kitchen or add electrical panels.”

Bonus savings can also be realized with multi-function equipment. Not only do they take up less space, they eliminate the costs of running steamers, fryers, convection ovens, smokers and/or skillets, he adds. “Combi-ovens are great in that you can use on-demand power and have short preheat times. You don’t have everything running on a [hydro] meter all the time.”

Rachel Roskopf, marketing specialist with Alto-Shaam, Inc. based in Menomonee Falls, Wis., says the company’s new Vector Multi-Cook Oven saves energy because if offers up to four ovens in one. “Operators can control temperature, fan speed and cook time in each individual chamber and cook twice the amount of food within the same time as traditional ovens.”

Configuring multi-function appliances in smaller spaces is a great way to create efficiencies and improve productivity, confirms Josh Wolfe, B.C. Regional Sales manager and executive chef at Food Service Solutions Inc. in Vancouver. “By leaning on a few machines to do the heavy lifting, you can achieve a lot — and lean less heavily on other equipment that uses more energy. For example, the Neo Lainox can be used as a blast chiller, freezer, slow cooker — including sous vide — or hot holding box.”

On the refrigeration side, Wolfe says blast chillers can play a part in mitigating power consumption and reduce the need for larger refrigerators and ice machines. “I’m seeing more operators turning to blast chilling as a function of day-to-day operations.”

A third important equipment innovation is ventless appliances. As Patrick Watt, consultant with A Day in Life Foodservice Development in Saint John, N.B. says, “Ventilation and equipment idling are the two biggest energy wasters in the kitchen.”

Ventless systems also allow operators to stack equipment in smaller spaces and only require a 120-volt outlet. “That uses dramatically less power,” Pelissier says. “Operators essentially get double the savings, since they don’t have to run a hood.”

EFFICIENT BY DESIGN
But choosing energy-saving equipment is only half the battle when tackling energy costs, Watt says. “We know all the energy-efficient equipment is out there, but do operators really understand it? The biggest savings in the kitchen are in how you manage your production schedules and link that to your equipment usage.”

Wolfe maintains that one of the most important aspects of energy savings is the kitchen design itself. “With the equipment available today, you can take the traditional implements in your kitchen and make them more efficient. But, the key is looking at your whole kitchen from an efficiency standpoint and designing the space around those newer technologies.”

A simple example would be a convection oven that typically has to be running at maximum temperature all day, regardless of how much product is in it. “Enter the combi-oven,” Wolfe says. “It has all the capabilities and is exponentially more energy efficient because it uses less power, takes up less space, can power up quickly and apply heat only when needed.”

Foodservice equipment has come a long way, Wolfe says. “Now, operators of all kinds can find efficiencies beyond just power consumption, implementation costs and reducing ventilation. New equipment, for example, can allow you to build vertically, outside of a ventilation hood within a smaller space. A lot of this is about taking a fresh look [at your kitchen] and deciding what you’re trying to achieve and how you can get there more efficiently.”

Menu development is another area operators can tie into energy savings, he notes. “Companies are now looking at how to take countertop space and make it viable production space in a non-traditional kitchen environment. High-speed-oven technology such as the Amana AXP oven heats rapidly, holds its temperature and reduces cooking time dramatically.”

AN OUNCE OF PREVENTION
Whatever your choice, it’s important to utilize and understand heat use in the kitchen, as well as train staff properly, Watt adds. “There are specialists out there, such as energy companies that can come in and help with things like how to operate the equipment to get the best savings, or how to cluster equipment and configure hoods in the most efficient way, or tell you when it makes sense to replace something. Remember, however, if you don’t train staff about energy savings, all your planning is for naught.”

Maintenance is also key, he advises. “If you don’t keep the hood clean, energy costs go up. You should also be replacing the gaskets on fridges and ovens and making sure the doors are sealed. It’s like tires on cars — if they’re too hard, you wreck the car; too soft, they use too much gas. You have to pay attention to those things.”

Written by Denise Deveau

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