Operators trying to lower energy or water usage and increase efficiency should consider equipment such as heat recovering ware-washing systems and newer lighting technology, according to Food Service Technology Center engineers.
The FSTC in San Ramon, Calif., recently marked its 25th year as a lab for testing the energy efficiency, water efficiency and performance of foodservice kitchen appliances and ventilation systems.
“It took the first 25 years to build the foundation and get to the starting line. The next 25 should see us moving forward,” Richard Young, FSTC senior engineer and director of education, said of the organization’s evolution. “We study both energy and water efficiency, and performance, because there is no way you are going to tell someone in foodservice to use something that does not perform well,” Young added.
The FSTC, along with Southern California Edison Technology Test Center and the Southern California Gas Energy Resource Center, has provided much of the test data used by the federal Environmental Protection Agency's Energy Star program and the California Energy Wise equipment rebate program. Both of those programs develop specifications for and encourage the use of energy-efficient commercial foodservice equipment.
Ratepayers of Northern California’s PG&E public utility fund the center and its 10,000-square-foot lab, which is administered by that utility under the auspices of the California Public Utilities Commission and operated by Fisher-Nickel Inc.
Young and David Zabrowski, a fellow engineer and a “kitchen of the future” student, recently spoke with Nation’s Restaurant News about what equipment is driving energy, water and money saving in kitchens and restaurant facilities.
How can restaurateurs improve the efficiency of their operations?
Young: Purchase energy efficient appliances, such as those you can find through Energy Star and California's Energy Wise.
Zabrowski: We’re not suggesting that operators take out working pieces of equipment, but when the time comes to replace equipment or buy new equipment, the information is there to make smart purchases.
Young: Exceptions to that might be made for older holding cabinets and steamers.
The use of newer lighting technologies, such as compact fluorescent lighting (CFL) or light emitting diode (LED), has been cited by the FSTC and others as a smart efficiency play for restaurateurs. Is that still true?
Young: Yes. Doing some lighting retrofits can reduce energy consumption and make a quick return on investment. Buy it in pieces and try it in advance [of a full installation].
A lot of LED products are becoming more mainstream, but we do say “buyer beware” because it is a relatively new industry with a lot of people selling products that won’t look good in a restaurant or last [as long as claimed]. The trick is to look for mainstream brands and try them out to see if you like the lamps.
Compact fluorescents are still very cost effective and can be put in places where they won’t be argued about [for ambience or food illumination reasons], such as in exhaust hoods, walk-in coolers, [covered] wall sconces, managers' offices and storerooms. A $2 or $3 compact fluorescent light can cut your energy use by 75 percent.
Zabrowski: One of the real selling points of compact fluorescent lights is that you replace them less so you save on maintenance costs.
Talk about your notion of the ‘kitchen of the future.’
Zabrowski: During the last 10 years we’ve seen a tremendous improvement in the technology available for commercial kitchen equipment, and we’re adding a greater degree of control, better insulation and better heat transfer efficiency in appliances to get more flexibility and production out of kitchen appliances than we ever did before. The traditional cook line with built in redundancy and extra appliances that do just one thing is now changing with the use of appliances that are not that new but are gaining momentum or are more mature, such as combination ovens, or induction cooking.
One of the frustrating things about this industry is that everyone is so focused on first or upfront cost, and that ensures that you have the lowest-efficiency technology. We really want to get away from that conversation and talk about total cost of ownership. Do we really need 12 pieces of equipment on the line?
[With some multiuse equipment] you do have to change the way the menu is designed and the way food is produced, but we’re seeing more of that.
Another area where we are seeing innovation is fryers. Larger fryers are now efficient, with three baskets instead of two and faster recovery times. A single 18-inch fryer could replace a double bank of 14-inch fryers.
Anything else that is new or interesting in equipment efficiency?
Zabrowski: Other new technologies on the horizon include energy efficient charbroilers [with] a lid and burners that cycle down when it is closed. Charbroilers [typically] are on all day — though they are not cooked on all day — because of their long startup times.
The new design incorporates a thermostatic controller that reduces energy consumption when the lid is closed while keeping the cooking grate at around 650 degrees Fahrenheit. For the next phase of development, we are working with Gas Technology Institute to add an emissions control that would convert grease from the cooking process to water and carbon dioxide. Another advantage [of the hood] is that it reduces [waste] heat so that the kitchen stays cooler.
Young: Also [gaining momentum are] dishwashing machines with heat recovery systems. Instead of venting all the heat into the dish room, these systems are capturing it and putting it back into the machine so you don’t need to use as much hot water and the room is cooler. More and more dish machine manufacturers are getting into these technologies.
Zabrowski: Our ventilation manager said a [conventional] hooded dish machine puts out as much heat into a room as a charbroiler.