What a topic. The food service industry has embraced sustainability as a core requirement — yet with everyone going green and an abundance of advice coming our way, how do we know who and what to believe when it comes to energy efficiency?
With new technology continuing to move at a sprinter's pace to meet the insatiable demand for the latest bells and whistles, it can be tough to stay on top of every technological benefit that comes along. In order to overcome the learning curve that comes with technology's endless march, I find it useful to filter the hype associated with new technology developments through some practical approaches I've learned over the years. I would encourage any non-technical, passionate people to apply these principles to their thinking about energy efficiency in the kitchen and dining room:
1. BIG PICTURE AND YOUR ENTERPRISE: Energy efficiency doesn't just deal with energy. It deals with product maintenance, through-put, food quality and consistency, ease of cleaning, return on investment, product safety and life. When purchasing a piece of equipment, one needs to consider all these issues, as they have a direct correlation on profitability. Would anyone install a fryer that produces a greasy product just because it uses less energy? What if the fryer required staff to handle hot oil and took them an extra 45 minutes to clean? Would that be a good long-term investment? This sort of thinking must be applied when analyzing equipment that boasts energy efficiency benefits and savings in order for you to determine if the equipment is actually right for you.
2. DATA, DATA, DATA: When we get down to the nuts and bolts of equipment energy savings, I don't rely on cut sheets or sales presentations from local equipment representatives. They want to sell something, period. I always like to be well-researched when providing prescriptive data. I go to the best and most current source available: the PG&E Food Service Technology Center in San Ramon, California. My friends at PG&E, Don Fisher and Richard Young, have gathered and analyzed years of statistical data on hundreds of pieces of equipment. Their website is friendly and easy to use. They will gladly give you more information than you wanted to know.
3. BEHIND THE NUMBERS I: Many of you reading this have heard that kitchens use about five times more energy than typical commercial spaces. But do you know where the energy goes and how it is used? I'll tell you: food prep is 35 percent, HVAC is 28 percent, sanitation is 18 percent, lighting is 13 percent, and refrigeration is 6 percent. These numbers are averages but you can look at your operation and begin to imagine how money can be saved. Is your exhaust hood efficient, or is it sucking out to much A/C or heating? It may be operating at full capacity when the operation isn't cooking. Are your floors being washed with a one-inch "hot hose" that pours hundreds of gallons of water down the drain? What about the spray nozzle on the soiled dish table? How efficient is the refrigeration system being specified – or are you just looking at price? Lighting can ruin or enhance ambiance, and it can also chew up valuable profits. Are you aware of ways to solve the energy crunch through proper lighting techniques? No – please don't install those awful curly cue light bulbs.
4. BEHIND THE NUMBERS II: Numbers can add up quickly if the operation is large or a chain restaurant. For new specifications, take the time to check each piece of equipment and compare with like models. The difference can be astounding. Add that difference to multiple locations over a year period of time.
5. SLOW AND STEADY WINS THE RACE: In an existing operation, it is not always financially feasible to replace existing equipment. But nothing should stop you from inventorying and cataloging all the existing equipment, and carefully finding replacements that are more energy efficient. Note all the findings. One day, each piece will be replaced, either in an emergency or through planned obsolescence. If your replacement list is updated at least every other year, you'll have a reference guide and won't be dependent on advice from the local sales rep.
6. REBATES: Many utility companies offer rebates on equipment that is being replaced. Check this out as rebates can be a very effective source of saving money.