Powering Down: Trends in Energy-Efficient Equipment

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Energy efficiency is always on the mind of restaurant operators, whether they’re designing a new kitchen or uncovering new energy-saving strategies with existing equipment.

Those in the know will tell you energy efficiency is about more than buying Energy-Star appliances and thinking you’ve done the job. There are plenty of other ways to integrate equipment, processes and overall design to capture both obvious and hidden savings.

Equipment solutions can range from the large (on-demand ventilation systems) to the small (timers and sensors). Or, it could be looking beyond the up-front ratings numbers. Savings can be also be found in consolidating pieces of equipment or learning the ins and out of programmable controls.

THE INTEGRATED APPROACH
A single move can often have a domino effect, leading to savings in larger systems within a building. A better insulated warewasher, for example, could mean less heat in the kitchen and less demand on HVAC requirements.

Andrew Waddington, senior consultant with fsSTRATEGY Inc. in Mississauga, Ont., says energy efficiency is about integrated design. “It’s not just about buying an energy-efficient appliance. It’s about looking at the needs of the operation as a whole.”

Almost every operation is working on energy efficiency, says Doug Feltmate, foodservice and hospitality consultant with Planned Foodservice Solutions Inc. in Ottawa. When working on a kitchen design, he considers energy efficiency from the big-picture perspective.

Applying strategic thinking could mean reducing the number of pieces of equipment you need. “I tend to look at multi-tasking versus firing up multiple pieces of equipment. Why have three pieces when you could reduce that to one combi-oven?”

Not only does that save energy, it also reduces the amount of ventilation needed, which in turn reduces air-conditioning requirements, he adds. “To put that in perspective, reducing ventilation requirements by two feet saves the equivalent of heating and cooling a small house.”

Heat recovery is another area worth looking at, Feltmate says. “If you use heat recovery in dishwashing, you don’t have to bring in a hot-water line. You only need a cold-water one, which dramatically reduces your hot-water usage.”

The same principle can also be extended to refrigeration systems, where some operators are using the heat rejection to preheat water. Feltmate also recommends looking at compressors. “Going to new scroll-type compressors versus piston ones can deliver a 30- to 40-per-cent reduction in power consumption for the same output.”

SOMETHING IN THE AIR
HVAC is the number-1 place where significant savings can be found, Waddington says. “I’ve seen studies that say 28 per cent of foodservice energy use is in HVAC, including regular air conditioning and ventilation. That’s why on-demand ventilation has become such a big thing. If you’re running a hood that’s overpowered, you’re literally sucking money out of the establishment. The energy needed to pull air out and temper it is huge.”

Transitioning to direct-control kitchen-ventilation systems proved to be one of Service Inspired Restaurants’ (SIR Corp.) biggest energy-savings wins, says Paul Bognar, president and Chief Operating Officer. Units are now being installed throughout its network. The systems cost $28,000 to $48,000 each, with an estimated ROI of 12 to 18 months.

“Typical restaurants have giant range hoods that are turned on in the morning and run full on until they’re shut off. They’re also extracting all your warm air in winter and cold air in summer for the entire restaurant,” he explains.

The new systems sense the need to clear smoke and ramp up or down accordingly. Locations have reported up to a 40-per-cent reduction in energy usage. “That’s $15,000 to $20,000 a year per establishment, not to mention the savings associated with air conditioning and gas heating. That’s a lucky downstream benefit,” Bognar says.

WHEN YOU CAN’T STAND THE HEAT
Heat recovery is also worth considering. Warewashing is a prime example, Waddington says. “Ventless models can recapture steam and use it to reheat water coming in. Not only are you saving energy, you can locate the machine in areas that normally wouldn’t support one.”

Heat reclamation can even be applied to refrigeration systems. While they aren’t inexpensive, they can help in environments where there’s heavy use of hot water and refrigeration, he notes.

Many energy-savings issues revolve around how well equipment transfers heat — an area where programming can help, Waddington says. “Computer controls are much smarter than in the past and making things much more efficient. We’re seeing more use of combi-ovens where the automation is incredible. They also produce higher moisture content that allows them to transfer air to the food more efficiently.”

LIGHTS ON
One of the quickest and largest cost savings can be found in lighting. As Feltmate explains, a typical small restaurant has 70 to 100 lights. LED lights can take the average wattage from 60 down to six. “Ninety per cent is a huge savings for something that’s on 19 hours a day — and delivers a great ROI.”

SIR Corp. has almost completed the conversion to LED in all its establishments, Bognar says. “The energy savings are massive.”

Depending on available incentives in jurisdictions, the cost to convert is $11,000 to $17,000 per location, with an ROI of close to three years, he notes. “The life on a bulb is seven years, so it pays for itself.”

SWEATING THE SMALL THINGS
Restaurateurs have traditionally focused on bigger equipment, but some are now looking in another direction. David Zabrowski, president, Frontier Energy in San Ramon, Calif. is working with the California Energy Commission to study energy efficiency in countertop equipment. He describes the category as “anything that does not come under a hood and plugs in.”

Individually, they’re not big energy users, he says. “But once you start adding up loads, they can be significant. If you have conveyor toasters running all day long, they’re using as much energy as an electric fryer.”

A few simple approaches can help lighten that load. “The easiest is activity sensors or time controls so equipment is not running any more than it needs to,” he says. “Some manufacturers are already implementing those types of features. They might be a little more expensive, and many don’t realize the value of it, but we’ve seen savings from 20 per cent to 60 per cent on individual pieces of equipment.” Smart plugs can also be used as timers.

One of the most under-utilized strategies is insulation. Whether it’s a coffee maker or rapid-cook oven, there are plenty of opportunities for insulation to be better used and prevent heat loss, he says. “It’s so inexpensive. A lot of appliances are insulated with air gaps, which isn’t very effective in reducing heat loss.”

The countertop technology that delivers the most significant savings is induction, he says. “Induction can be two to three times the price of a standard appliance but uses 60-per-cent less energy.”

As energy efficiency becomes mainstream, Feltmate says looking to the big picture — from the smallest to the largest appliances — could easily uncover more opportunities than expected. “It’s the thought behind the strategy that helps you maximise energy savings.”

Written by Denise Deveau

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