Energy Efficiency and Ice Machines

Ice machines are part of most foodservice operations, helping staff keep food at safe temperatures, and cooling drinks. And recently ice has renewed its appeal as operators are using it as an ingredient to expand their beverage programs to include smoothies, iced coffee drinks and more.

Because they consume water and electricity to perform their tasks and dispose of waste through the operation's sewer system, ice machines can be large utility users. That's why specifying an energy-efficient unit and knowing how to properly care for it can help foodservice operators lower their monthly expenses.

Nowadays, pretty much every maker is improving energy efficiency throughout their machines so looking at Energy Star-rated machines can be a good place to begin the purchasing process. It is important to note that Energy Star only rates the upper quartile of units on the market and thus not all types of ice machines, including those units that make flake and compressed ice, are Energy Star rated. It is important to understand these issues before researching the appropriate unit.

Energy Efficient Options and Steps for Ice Machines
Bin level controls tailor ice production to meet the operation's specific needs and timers on the machine allow the operator to specify when the unit actually makes ice. Depending on demand and workflow, some operators will program the timer to make ice during off hours thus reducing the amount of peak time electricity charges. Many utilities will encourage load shifting like this because it helps them reduce or smooth out peak demand times. In addition, tailoring production to demand will lead to having fresher ice, which makes for a better guest experience.

Decide whether an air cooled or remote cooled machine is best for the given operation. Air cooled units tend to be cheaper up front but they blow hot air into the kitchen. Because the operator will need to remove that hot air from the kitchen, placement of the ice machine could have an impact on the business' air conditioning costs. As a result, operators may want to consider the remote placement of the condenser for longer term savings. Water cooled units tend to be more efficient in terms of electricity consumption but they use considerably more water, unless a closed loop system is in place.

Regularly replace the filters on air cooled machines, particularly if the ice maker is in an area with grease or other debris, such as yeast, in the air. The air filter allows the machine to breathe and if the ice maker is choked for air it will work harder, thus driving up electricity costs and affecting its reliability.

In the case of some large capacity users, specifying two smaller machines may be as efficient as specifying one big one and it will provide the foodservice operator with some backup in the event one unit breaks down.

To encourage operators to purchase energy-efficient ice machines, a growing number of utilities and other organizations offer rebates that are tied to Energy Star and CEE tiers. While the process to collect the rebates has become easier, it is important to note that each program operates differently. In some cases, the foodservice equipment and supplies dealer can give the operator customer the rebate amount on the invoice and then proceed to fill out the paper work and collect the money. Generally speaking, though, the trend with rebates is to make them easier to use.

Three Common Energy Consuming Mistakes Operators Make with Ice Machines
Buying the wrong ice maker for the application tends to be the biggest mistake foodservice operators make. If they buy a unit that is too small, the equipment will be overburdened thus shortening its life cycle. This also happens when operators buy a bin that is way too big so the machine never really can fill it and never stops running.

Many operators also do not use the bin level controls to manage production resulting in too much ice being made. Because the bins are not refrigerated, that excess ice eventually melts and goes down the drain.

Failure to perform routine maintenance and keep ice machines clean will lead to inefficiencies. For example, a dirty evaporator coil and evaporator plate will reduce the heat transfer rate. Also, scale build-up on these parts means it will take longer to make ice, thus reducing efficiency. That's why most manufacturers recommend cleaning an ice maker every six months or even more frequently depending on the operating environment.

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