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Energy-Saving Cooking Equipment

SAVING ENERGY AND CASH: Advancements in energy savings have been made with all type of equipment, including dishwashers (below) and convection ovens (above).

FRY SAVINGS: Newly engineered fryers lose less heat by directing it to the products being cooked.

"Energy-saving equipment" is the buzz phrase for 2007. Many operators have taken on the cause of energy savings as an environmental issue, but most are reacting to increases in electricity, gas and even water.

A recent Energy Star study showed that operators could increase profits by as much as one-third if they saved 20 percent on energy costs.

At least one or two manufacturers of virtually every type of cooking equipment are making energy-efficient upgrades to their product. Although most equipment types are seeing some efficiency in newer models, here are some of the highlights.
1. Induction cookers are becoming popular. They have been around for years on buffet lines where they work quite well to provide hot food in a cooler dining room environment. Induction units are now being used more in the kitchen as production units. These cookers use a magnetic field to create heat in a product with almost no wasted energy like that put off by a traditional gas flame. There is also very little electrical draw on the unit unless there is a cooking vessel on the burner. The idle time energy usage contrasts sharply to gas burners that are often left on for hours when product is not being cooked.
2. Fryer efficiency im proves. Electric fryers are typically very efficient since the heating element is submerged in the frying medium. The real improvements have been in gas fryer burner design. Historically gas fryers have not been very efficient. Gas is ignited in tubes running through or around the frying vat, but typical design allows much of the heat to escape directly up the flue. New designs force much of the heat to be imparted to the cooking medium, resulting in more efficient units. Manufacturers are also providing better insulation around the fry vats to retain more heat. Fryers that earn the Energy Star ratingmust meet a minimum cooking efficiency of 50 percent for gas and 80 percent for electric units.
3. Compartment steamers are now a category included by Energy Star. Steam Cookers that have earned the Energy Star listing are up to 60 percent more energyefficient than standard models. Energy-efficient steam cookers offer shorter cook times, a higher production rate and reduced heat loss due to better insulation and a more efficient steam delivery system. In addition to saving electricity or gas energy, the qualified steamers also use less water—up to 90 percent less than standard models.
4. Steam kettles and braising pans are notorious for wasting heat. Some makers have introduced double-skin pan and lid structure to reduce heat dispersion into the workplace. This innovation reduces energy consumption, which also makes the cooking environment more comfortable for your staff.
5. Combi oven/steamers and microwave/convection ovens have made great strides. By virtue of the speed of many of these units, the cost to operate them per serving produced is lower than traditional ovens or even convection ovens. Some of the new super ovens on the market claim to cook 8-10 times as rapidly as a traditional oven. These new units are well insulated for heat retention.
6. Exhaust hoods reduce costs. It's been estimated that typically about 75 percent of a restaurant's heating and cooling costs are sucked out through cooking exhaust hoods. Hood manufacturers are coming on line with new super-efficient hoods to reduce air quantities to a minimum. Scientifically engineered hoods and strategically placed air inlets that have helped reduce the amount of conditioned air volume exhausted. Another exhaust air saver is to reduce the overall air volume through a variable-speed fan control. These controls monitor the air entering the hood and sense when no or little cooking is going on. In down times the control automatically reduces the air being exhausted.
7. Big energy savings can be found in energy-efficient dishwashers. Large amounts of electric power are needed to heat water to the required temperatures, but a few manufacturers have found a way to reduce the amount of rinse water needed in their machines by developing special nozzles to extract the maximum heat from the water. Machines with these nozzles yield considerable power reductions and water savings. Although not consuming as much energy as cooking equipment or dishwashers, ice makers and refrigerators are now saving more electric and water costs as well.

If you are building a new restaurant site, you may hear about the "green building" trend. Green Buildings are about the materials used in construction and how they conserve energy. The USGBC administers the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Green Building Rating System, a voluntary building certification program that defines high-performance and energy-saving green buildings. Many features go into having a building LEED certified. Buying energy-saving kitchen equipment is one way to earn points that contribute to getting the certification.

Without a doubt energy costs are a hot industry topic today. A good way for operators to select energy-efficient equipment is to look for Energy Star-qualified equipment. Currently you can find qualified fryers, hot food holding cabinets, commercial solid door refrigerators and freezers, and steamers on the Energy Star website at: cfm?c=commercial_food_service.commercial_food_service. The listed equipment items can save as much as half of the energy or resources over their conventional counterparts.

Also, if you are in the market for new equipment, a growing number of states, municipalities and utility companies are offering rebates to foodservice operators who purchase energyefficient equipment. Those rebates, especially if your operation is in California or New York, can be substantial—several are up to $500 and even $1,000 for purchasing a listed equipment piece. Check them out.

Dan Bendall is a principal of FoodStrategy, a Maryland-based consulting firm specializing in planning foodservice facilities. He is also a member of Foodservice Consultants Society International. He can be reached at 240-314-0660.