The Case for Energy Efficiency

How to determine your true investment in energy-efficient equipment.

Abbie Westra, Director, Editorial, CSP

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Nobody doesn’t want to reduce their energy usage—be it for altruistic purposes or to shave some dollars off their utility bill. But when push comes to shove, often the sticker shock of an Energy Star or otherwise energy-efficient equipment piece trumps those green feelings.

“Many operators only look at the purchase price of equipment. They don’t always look at other aspects—the ongoing costs of energy, maintenance, installation and life cycle,” says Una Song, program manager for the Environmental Protection Agency’s Energy Star program.

“One thing that is central to the Energy Star program itself is making sure that whatever equipment is qualified meets the same or better performance standards as the standard,” she continues, pointing out that the materials and installation required to meet efficiency standards often naturally make for higher-quality products.

Cost effectiveness—in terms of both utility savings and initial costs—are factored into certification. As is quality. “If someone buys a piece of equipment and it doesn’t perform as well as expected, it’s not going to reflect well on the program,” says Song.

But it’s an investment nonetheless, with a return that’s not easily calculable. Luckily, there are tools available to help gauge your savings. The key is to build a baseline.

Keeping Count

To start quantifying how much energy you’d save with a new piece of equipment, you first need to know what you’re consuming today so you have something to measure against. That can mean simply putting water or energy meters on individual pieces of equipment.

“It’s hard to quantify savings if you don’t necessarily know what each individual piece of equipment is consuming today,” says Sarah Puls, vice president of brand marketing for ITW Food Equipment Group, Dayton, Ohio. “It’s going to be harder to quantify [after the fact], so whatever data you can get, track it,” says Puls.

The EPA has created a savings calculator to help determine the energy consumption and operating costs of kitchen equipment and the savings with Energy Star (see above). Following is the information it requires operators track:

  • Usage (so, for dishwashers: racks washed per day; for fryers: pounds cooked per day per unit; for coolers and freezers: volume);
  • Unit operating hours per day, operating days per year;
  • Unit energy consumption per day;
  • Hot water fuel type;
  • Unit water use per day.

A Store Within a Store

Tracking costs is particularly important for foodservice operations within a larger retail operation.

When a foodservice operation is part of a larger facility and it’s charged an indirect cost for water and energy consumption, having the documentation ready to get those costs recalculated is helpful toward ensuring an accurate number.

The foodservice-within-retail format is so sticky, it’s actually become a focus for some foodservice sustainability experts.

“A free-standing store can do so much, but what about food courts?” says Chris Moyer, project manager for the National Restaurant Association’s environmental initiative Conserve.

Moyer is also chair of the Sustainable Food Court Initiative, part of the nonprofit Elemental Impact. The group is focusing on food courts in Atlanta shopping malls, event venues and multiuse buildings, as well as the airport. Moyer advises operators to think of energy-efficient equipment as an investment in energy savings, and also quality. The NRA is currently working on a micro-grant program to help operators reduce their upfront costs. “It’s not fullscale ready to go, but in the near future we’ll have an inclusive program,” he says.

On the Horizon

Energy recapturing didn’t appear on any top 10 trends lists for 2011, but it was the first thing named by everyone interviewed as the most exciting thing on the energy-efficiency horizon.

“I’ve seen a Pizza Fusion in West Miami that has a really simple heat exchange over the oven that can create enough hot water for the entire building,” says Moyer. A number of warewashers have come out that use the steam generated during the washing process to heat the water for the next cycle. This also eliminates the need for a hood. “A lot of energy that is generated in the kitchen is wasted. That’s just the reality of it,” says Moyer, adding that “outside-the-box thinking” is creating some unique technology. Meanwhile, EPA is finalizing some new revisions to Energy Star specifications for foodservice categories including warewashers, hot-holding cabinets and ice machines to include flake and chewable ice. It’s also working with the NRA to create a recognition program for operators who show commitment to the Energy Star program, according to Song. “We think there are a lot of efficiency gains to be made in the kitchen,” she says.

Product Innovations

And then there’s the equipment itself. Naturally, there’s been no shortage of new energy-efficient equipment, especially during a NAFEM year. (The North American Association of Food Equipment Manufacturers holds its trade show every other year.)

Manitowoc Foodservice’s new Indigo line of ice machines allows operators a high level of control over production levels, leading naturally to energy efficiency. Ice-making schedules are customizable, allowing for peak and offpeak times. Water-quality sensor probes can reduce water consumption by up to 20%, according to the company, and “air-assist” harvest technology speeds the harvest cycle by forcing air between the evaporator and ice sheet—ultimately lowering the overall energy use of the same amount of ice production.

For those who need a hood in their operations, Gaylord’s sophisticated new system uses nature to move heat up and out. The ELX series hood ventilation system takes advantage of the thermal plume that rises naturally from the cooking process to capture and contain heat, without mechanical fans, plenums and jets. The hood also counts toward LEED points.

Hoshizaki America Inc. has been making a number of tweaks to its line of reach-in coolers and freezers. Variable speed compressors eliminate the on/off limitations of traditional compressors. A ducted air-flow system has slots up and down the back wall, pushing cool air out to create a consistent temperature throughout the cooler, and thicker walls help maintain those temperatures. 

Energy Resources The website for the National Restaurant Association’s sustainability initiative offers case studies, virtual tours of green restaurants and easily applicable tips. The Foodservice Technology Center is actually the main information source for the EPA’s Energy Star program. Its site is full of cost calculators, rebate tips, equipment information and an interactive map with purchasing tips for all areas of the commercial kitchen. The North American Association of Food Equipment Manufacturers’ site features a downloadable savings calculator that dives even deeper than the EPA’s into details such as installation fees, service calls, labor and operating costs. From ITW Food Equipment Group, this site lets operators browse best practices and products by four categories: energy savings, water savings, waste reduction and preventative maintenance.

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