Smart Thinking: Energy-Efficient Technology in Foodservice

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Labels might help with energy efficiency choices, but they’re only part of a bigger plan

Every operator wants to conserve energy but at what cost? Depending on the economic climate, the willingness to invest in energy-efficient technology can change like the wind. Lest we forget, the recession left restaurateurs operating on razor-thin margins with little money available to invest in equipment.

Interestingly, rising energy costs are putting energy savings on the front burner at many Canadian restaurants. “Energy is now identified as one of the biggest concerns by our members,” says Garth Whyte, president and CEO of the Toronto-based Canadian Restaurant and Foodservices Association. “While energy is the number-3 cost behind food and labour, it’s the fastest growing.”

It makes sense as restaurants are the highest commercial users of energy, says Derrick Finn, president of Finn Projects, a Toronto-based engineering company that provides energy solutions to businesses. “They’re multiple times higher than other retail stores — in some case five times higher.”

According to Finn, there are five categories of energy consumption. On average, cooking consumes 30 per cent of energy, heating and ventilation consumes 23 per cent, water heating consumes 17 per cent, refrigeration consumes 14 per cent and lighting consumes eight per cent.

“There are things that can be done in those areas to reduce energy savings,” Finn says. “With kitchen-hood ventilation, Melink has optical sensors in hoods that can control fan speeds based on what food is being cooked. Walk-in refrigeration technology can now monitor product versus air temperature, so the compressor isn’t ramping up and down all the time.”

Vancouver’s White Spot Restaurants has been undergoing operational changes to reduce energy, says Terry Chiu, director of Design and Construction. “We started with replacing incandescent and fluorescent light bulbs and have now applied LED light bulbs to one of our restaurants as well as use them for walk-in coolers and freezers and exhaust hoods. We’ve replaced the pre-rinse hose-spray nozzles with low-flow nozzles, using auto-sensor faucets that recharge themselves and we’ve implemented high-efficiency hot-water tanks.”

White Spot management buys Energy-Star equipment such as fryers, reach-in refrigeration equipment, ice machines and dishwashers. Gas-efficient convection ovens are also used and demand-control exhaust and make-up air systems, which only operate when needed, are being tested.

While Energy Star is a good place to start when assessing equipment needs, it’s not a panacea for every energy-saving choice, since the certification only covers certain appliance categories.

“Each category of appliance is different in terms of its state of maturity with Energy Star,” says Don Fisher, president and CEO of the Food Service Technology Center in San Ramon, Calif. “Fryers and convection ovens, for example, are extremely mature in terms of Energy-Star ratings and availability of pro-duct. The one common thread, however, is energy-efficient appliances are more productive.”

Nicholas Cloet, sustainability research coordinator for My Sustainable Canada, which was developed by researchers and practitioners to create a sustainable vision, is the lead researcher/ writer of an upcoming Energy Star Guide to Commercial Kitchens to be released by Natural Resources Canada. The guide provides information on different categories of Energy-Star qualified equipment in foodservices with a list of expected savings.

For equipment that’s not part of the Energy-Star family, Cloet says the EnerGuide label can provide valuable information on kilowatt hours and energy usage. “You do have to compare usage model by model, but it’s worth the effort.”

It’s just as important to get appropriately sized, durable appliances that meet your needs, he adds. “More importantly, keep [the equipment] well maintained and running properly.”

Aside from Energy Star, there are a number of one-off improvements that benefit the energy-efficiency cause, explains André LaRivière, executive director for Green Table Network, a Vancouver-based organization that tailors energy-saving strategies and solutions to the foodservice industry. “Hobart came out with a new thermostat control for its Vulcan broilers that helps them run 25 per cent more efficiently than a standard unit. Given the amount of energy they consume, that’s significant.”

Where there isn’t an alternative equipment choice that makes sense, restaurateurs have to look at other operational areas to improve efficiency. At Pizza Nova stores, gas ovens maintain quality-control, says Domenic Primucci, president of the Toronto-based chain. “There’s not a lot we can do on that front because the technology is not really there for gas ovens. But we are doing things to circumvent energy costs such as changing to fluorescent and LED lighting, putting aerators on our taps to reduce water consumption and exploring new options every time we open a new store,” says Primucci.

Operators who aren’t researching energy savings can pay a high price. “A broiler with a street price of $4,000 could generate a $6,000 utility bill. A major workhorse like a double- or triple-stacked conveyor oven can [translate to a] $20,000 to $30,000 gas bill,” explains Fisher. “A typical casual-dining restaurant could generate annual billings of $70,000 for electric and $40,000 for gas. [But] something as simple as shutting a fan off when there’s no food in a conveyor oven could drop your BTUs per hour from 60,000 to 40,000 — that’s a
huge savings.”

According to Finn, lifecycle costs also play a big part in choosing green equipment. That could be 10 times as much as your initial investment, so it’s important to have equipment that doesn’t require a lot of maintenance,” he says. Being technology smart can also help immeasurably. Sensors and timers in newer ventilation, dishwashing, cooking and heating and cooling equipment can dramatically reduce consumption.

Ultimately, whether it’s a retrofit, replacement or a few technology tweaks, energy efficiency pays. “There are two important messages operators need to hear,” says Green Table’s LaRivière. “One is high efficiency equals high performance. The other is better performance equals longer life and lower total cost of ownership.”

Saving energy creates a cascade effect. “If you invest in induction cooking, for example, you don’t need the high-powered kitchen ventilation you typically have with gas,” says LaRivière. “All of a sudden you can knock back the cost of your hoods running by 50 per cent or more, and you have a more comfortable and more efficient working environment. Those are the things you have to think about.”         

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