With New York City now introducing electrification mandates in the name of sustainability, the electric kitchen may come up in more conversations.
Could the commercial kitchen of the future feature only electric equipment? It’s a question being asked more frequently as various mandates on the East and West Coasts geared toward reducing carbon emissions in the next 20 to 30 years go into effect.
The New York City Council passed a ban on gas-powered stove appliances in new construction in December 2021. The move makes it the largest city in the country to pass such a ban, which will take effect in 2023 for buildings under seven stories, and 2027 for taller buildings.
Prior to the NYC ban being approved, several California cities had put natural gas bans in motion for 2023, making all-electric equipment a requirement in new developments.
“Berkeley, California, kicked it off in 2020 with a gas ban for new construction, which was tested in court and survived, after the California Restaurant Association sued the city,” says Christopher A. Galarza, owner/culinary sustainability consultant, Forward Dining Solutions LLC, Verona, Penn. In the Pacific Northwest, Whatcom County in Washington State became the first U.S. jurisdiction to ban new fossil fuel infrastructure last fall.
All-electric kitchens are nothing new for cruise ships, high rises and even some chains in the South, where in some instances using electricity costs less than gas, says Richard Young, director at Frontier Energy in Denver and director of education for the Food Service Technology Center, based in San Ramon, Calif. “Kitchens are more efficient now than 30 years ago but people across the board have not adopted low-carbon lifestyles.”
Due to the reluctance to go all-electric, cities will continue implementing legislation to force everyone’s hand, says Ryan Rongo, project manager, S2O Consultants Inc., Chicago, adding, “However, the places putting in all-electric have green energy infrastructure.”
There are instances where gas appliances have the edge over electric equipment. “Facilities with display kitchens want customers to see the flames during cooking, which isn’t possible with electric equipment,” Rongo says. “And although with electric ranges operators don’t have to worry about pilots, product cooked on these units needs more attention as there can be hot spots that cause issues.”
Another consideration to be aware of with electric ranges is when reducing temperatures to go from a rolling boil to a simmer, staff must take the pot off the burner, since the temperature doesn’t change as quickly as with a live flame.
On the plus-side for the all-electric kitchen, Young says, “As we move toward all-electric kitchens with more efficient designs, we see how to release more heat out of the kitchen. We can use a combi for production and a reduced-size griddle for execution to make the back of house more comfortable [temperature wise].”
Another discussion that arises with electric comes by way of the overall air quality in the back of house. “[By going all-electric], you’re reducing carbon that you’re expelling into the [kitchen],” says Ray Soucie, senior project manager, Webb Foodservice Design, Portland, Ore. “This is due to heat from the gas flame escaping from underneath cooking vessels as compared to induction heat being more fully absorbed into the pan and items being cooked.”
“We got pushback on going electric while working on Los Angeles’ Staples Center’s design,” Rongo says. “But, from our research, we found electric equipment like combi ovens, convection ovens and steamers are on par or exceed the temperature recovery of gas cooking equipment, with the exception of charbroilers.”
Broilers do represent a situation where gas may, in fact, have more firepower, Rongo says. Electric broilers are limited to temperatures between 500 degrees F and 700 degrees F, he explains, while gas units provide temperatures between 700 degrees F and 900 degrees F.
“The benefits are really with induction, which is where I see the future of electric cooking equipment headed,” says Adam Moore, founder, chef, strategist, Flashpoint Innovation, Chicago.
In converting kitchens from gas to electric, designers say it’s necessary to look at projects holistically. “[The conversion] needs to pay for itself, be maintained and do the right thing by the environment,” says Soucie. “It’s important to keep in mind what’s right for the client, since different types of businesses use different types of energy consumption during different time spans.”
Another consideration is the cost differences of gas and electric in different parts of the country. “It’s cheaper to cook with gas in some areas, while in others electric is cheaper, so those differences should be factored in,” Soucie says. “ROI should be determined for the overall investment, not just for fuel or electricity. For example, how long will equipment be operating to generate the necessary Btus?”
Along with utility costs, ventilation requirements come into play, including whether ventless is an option. “How much are you capturing with exhaust hoods, and what’s the payback for using ventless?” Soucie says. “There’s also residual payback with cooler kitchens, including increased employee comfort and less air conditioning use.”
The amount of electrical power available represents another key consideration when adding electric equipment to a kitchen or even weighing whether to go all electric. “We’ve worked on four or five projects that are all-electric and in fairly large buildings with lots of appliances,” Rongo says. “It’s important to make sure the building’s power can accommodate the large number of kilowatts that will be used. For example, we’re working on a stadium project right now, and the power supply to the building wasn’t sufficient to allow for extra kilowatts.” Making sure operators understand what’s involved with going all-electric is critical. “Buy-in is
a big one, because the industry doesn’t see all-electric as often,” he says.
“Although the options for cooking suites are somewhat limited for electric equipment, as operators have to go with modular systems, it’s fairly easy converting from gas to electric,” Rongo says. “It’s just a matter of switching out individual pieces of equipment, as the footprints remain the same. And a majority of equipment manufacturers have electrical counterparts to gas units in the lineup.”
It comes down to improving kitchen designs by rethinking cooking platforms and how these lines are staged. “The kitchen of the future is fast, small and flexible,” Young says. “It’s about moving from a traditional cookline to one that’s more thought out and optimized with ventilation, heat recovery, refrigeration and technology that is out there for engineered kitchens. It’s about behavior change and good engineering.”
With budget and other constraints creating difficulties in total kitchen conversions, the answer in the interim may be intermingling higher efficiency gas units with electric equipment. “We’ve done a lot of research on high efficiency natural gas equipment and learned energy use can be cut in half with these units, which cuts carbon output in half,” Young says. “One of our philosophies is that this next decade should be the Golden Age of high-efficiency gas equipment. This can make an immediate dent in energy savings and, in many cases, pays for the entire cost of the replacement equipment.”
“As creative as this industry is, there has been a real pushback on change and growth in using better cooking technology, so now we’re being forced to do it,” Galarza says. “This is good because it will create better culinary environments but bad because people may push back harder.”