Energy efficiency and sustainability issues continue to make fast inroads into foodservice. Right now, for many operators, reducing energy consumption and decarbonizing their kitchens is a choice. But that may not be the case for long.
Decarbonization refers to reducing carbon dioxide emissions with the goal of zero net carbon (ZNC) or carbon neutrality. Electrification refers to a way that commercial kitchens may achieve decarbonization by weaning themselves off fossil fuels, most notably natural gas.
Most climate scientists contend that we are behind the curve in reducing carbon emissions. As a result, state and local governments established codes, standards and laws to drive change. California leads the way, having reduced greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) to pre-1990 levels. The state also developed a road map to achieve ZNC. Now the state set its sights on 2030 and a further 40% reduction of GHG. The goal: total carbon neutrality by 2045.
Berkeley, Calif., banned the use of natural gas for all new construction. Washington state and Colorado established Energy Star-rated appliances as the minimum standard in foodservice operations. These movements led major institutions like Stanford University and Microsoft to plan to move away from gas cooking equipment. As the industry decarbonizes, this trend will trickle down into smaller operations.
All-electric kitchens offer many advantages. Users enjoy precise control over cooking functions. Some chefs love working with energy-efficient induction range tops, which feature an electric conversion efficiency of more than 90%.
Despite electricity’s many plusses, significant concerns — actual and perceived — remain when it comes to all-electric kitchens. Some operators are reluctant to change because they believe gas delivers the immediate, intense heat they want. Ultimately, manufacturers must demonstrate the advantages and address any other hurdles that stand in the way of this evolution.
Infrastructure represents a much larger challenge, according to energy experts like Richard Young, director at Frontier Energy. “Significant grid system changes will be necessary to enable effective electrification,” he says. “Even if renewable energy were absolutely free today, to create an all-electric world, we’ll still have to spend billions of dollars on wiring to get electricity into buildings.” Also, individual operators may need to upgrade their infrastructure to switch to all-electric equipment.
Capital investment aside, electric kitchens typically cost more than two times as much to operate than their gas-burning counterparts.
What can operators do? Take immediate action by getting involved and staying abreast of the changing regulatory landscape. Operators can take baseline efficiency measurements of their equipment to establish a foundation for improvement and identify energy-sapping items.
Our company, Montague, has made cooking equipment since 1857. Over our history, we’ve experienced fuel-type conversions more than once — solid fuels, oils, natural gas and electricity — and always evolved with new, precision cooking equipment to suit the industry.
We also realize the importance of sustainability to the foodservice industry. Along with other manufacturers, we’ll continue to design and build efficient cooking equipment — both gas and electric — for any need, for any operation.