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Lessons Learned: Takeaways from Five Energy-Efficiency Tests

Over the course of two years, FE&S has continually followed the Kitchen of the Future project led by the PG&E Food Service Technology Center (FSTC) in San Ramon, Calif., along with utility partners Southern California Edison and SoCalGas. The project started off by first identifying a diverse group of operators, from smaller, independent restaurants to larger-scale catering, healthcare and other institutions with outdated kitchens that could benefit from an investment in energy- and water-saving equipment.

What followed was a series of replacements and upgrades to energy-efficient and water-saving appliances as part of a larger study of how investments like these can save operators' utility costs as well as enhance efficiencies in operations.

Over the project's life cycle, cookline upgrades were made at five locations: Werewolf Kitchen & Bar in San Diego; Gate Gourmet, the massive airline caterer; Doubletree Hotel in Pleasanton, Calif.; the University of San Francisco Children's Hospital; and most recently, Versailles Cuban, an independent restaurant in Los Angeles.

There were many takeaways; so much so that the FSTC plans to deliver the lessons learned, along with related content about the Kitchen of the Future project during three in-person classes at the Center. Project leaders also plan to disseminate information through webinars and other online resources.

Broilers Use Substantial Energy

Overall, each site recouped major energy and gas savings through strategic equipment piece replacements, wrote Denis Livchak, engineer with the FSTC/Frontier Energy and the lead on the cookline project, in a report about the project. Gate Gourmet was found to have the highest total energy usage out of all sites because of its long operating hours and several cooklines, he determined.

"Werewolf had the least energy usage because of its small appliance line; however, it has the greatest energy reduction potential because of the outdated appliances," Livchak wrote in his report. "The DoubleTree had the greatest electric load because of the three electric steamers, large ventilation system, and a comparatively low gas load. The annual electric cost to run the steamers and the ventilation system was over $16,000. The University Hospital cookline had only two ovens that were candidates for replacement; these appliances used the most energy, providing a great opportunity for targeted selective replacement."

Broilers were found to use the most energy, followed by ovens and griddles, which used half the energy of broilers, according to Livchak. "A fractional reduction in broiler energy could overshadow higher percentage reductions in other appliances," he said. "Ovens had the most energy variation, making older and higher-consumption models great candidates for potential replacement. Range energy usage depended greatly on restaurant menu items and availability of breakfast service. Fryers had the most consistent energy usage due to standard oil vat size and temperature set points." The next phase of the project will analyze energy reduction of each appliance type at the different foodservice facilities.

Lessons Learned

Here, Livchak presents the lessons learned from each of the test sites.

  • Werewolf Bar & Grill, San Diego: Small restaurant operators are less likely to adopt energy-efficient equipment. While this site had smaller gas energy savings, it benefited from a 33 percent increase in the cooking area for the griddles and broiler as well as faster fryer recovery times at no energy penalty. A commercial kitchen ventilation assessment resulted in decommissioning one of the kitchen hoods and a demand control kitchen ventilation (DCKV) system was installed on the main kitchen hood, which resulted in greater than 50 percent ventilation energy reduction. Heating and cooling savings did not affect the thermal comfort negatively.
  • DoubleTree Hotel, Pleasanton, Calif.: The hotel kitchen's energy usage was dominated by three dual compartment steamers, which consumed a tremendous amount of water and energy. Replacing an outdated steamer with two water-saving models, and adding a combi oven, resulted in significant energy and water savings. The staff was initially reluctant to use the new steamers; however, they warmed up to the new equipment over time and started using it more out of necessity. "We are still working with the operators to cook more menu items in the combi oven instead of convection ovens," Livchak said. Their old broiler was replaced by a smaller infrared burner broiler, which resulted in significant gas energy savings. This site had the most comprehensive equipment replacement, with the installation of new fryers, along with a broiler, steamer, oven and griddle, the latter of which resulted in the most energy savings for this location.
  • Gate Gourmet, San Diego: Steam-jacketed kettles used a large amount of energy because staff were constantly boiling water with the lid off. Replacing these kettles with an energy-efficient model resulted in a 20 percent energy reduction across the board, and allowed the operator to save cooking time by cooking rice in these machines versus old rice cookers. Operators needed constant training on the new equipment, however, which included two combi ovens and a conveyor broiler, after it was found these pieces were not being properly maintained.
  • UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital/UCSF Health, San Francisco: Replacing equipment at hospitals in California requires a lot of documentation and inspection due to seismic activity. Most appliances were not good candidates for major replacement because of the amount of work that required submission of revision plans to California's Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development (OSHPD). The aging double-stack convection ovens were replaced with energy efficient units that have the same footprint and gas connections. They did not require plan resubmittal to OSHPD. The convection oven replacement cut the oven energy in half and resulted in significant energy savings and better temperature control and heat distribution during cooking.
  • Versailles, Los Angeles: This Cuban restaurant marks the fifth and most recent location. Livchak and his team submetered more than 10 gas appliances, with plans to replace at least five of those with energy-efficient models. This site also has a large kitchen hood system with three constantly working fans and an estimated energy consumption rate of 120 kWh per day, so the team plans to install a DCKV system to reduce the HVAC energy output.

Hardworking ranges and fryers dominate Versailles' cookline, which Livchak estimates uses 35 therms per day. His team is also considering adding an energy-efficient combi oven to replace some of the work of the ranges and fryers.

"As the consumers become more aware of the sustainable practices of the restaurant from the food-sourcing perspective, they should start scrutinizing the amount of energy it takes to prepare the food," Livchak wrote in his report. "A sustainably sourced chicken that has been roasted in an open rotisserie that consumes 10 therms per day is no longer a sustainable product once it ends up on the plate. Authentic Italian pizza with ingredients flown in from Italy and cooked in a 1,000-degree F oven that is left on 24/7 has some of the highest carbon footprints per pound of food served."

Line cooks and sous chefs often operate appliances. These employees may not have the financial incentive, passion or understanding about the high price of energy costs to turn appliances off when not using them or put them on a usage schedule, Livchak says. "There is a tremendous amount of energy that is wasted due to carelessness and poor planning," he says.

Management has the responsibility to educate and motivate staff to consider the way they use equipment, beyond just cooking with it.