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Saving Energy through Equipment Startup Schedules

It should be as simple as it sounds. Turn something on when you need it. Turn it off when you don't. Yet for decades kitchen workers have done exactly the opposite. In fact, even the most prestigious of culinary schools have taught future cooks to fire up the grills the moment they walk in the restaurant door, even if service doesn't begin for hours.

Equipment-Startup-SchedulesWhile many schools and operators have since changed their tune on when to start up kitchen equipment, old habits are hard to break. As a result, many foodservice operators employ elaborate schedules to not just remind staff what to turn on when, but to enforce these new guidelines as a way to save thousands of dollars in energy costs every year.

"I recommend turning on equipment only an hour or so before it is needed for heavy cooking," says David Zabrowski, director of engineering for the PG&E Food Service Technology Center in San Ramon, Calif. While the amount of energy dollars saved varies by equipment type, the savings potential can best be measured by the idle energy rate of the equipment. In that case, thermostatically controlled appliances such as fryers or ovens would only require a fraction of their rated input during idle conditions as the heaters cycle on and off, Zabrowski adds. For example, a broiler running at 100,000 Btu/h costs about $1 per hour to run, while a fryer may only use one-tenth as much per hour as the broiler.

Greg Christian, founder of Beyond Green Sustainable Food Partners, constantly consults his clients on this easy first step toward major energy savings and creating a more sustainable business and work environment. "Operators need to understand how energy intensive foodservice is," he says. "Examining waste, energy and water consumption can become an easier way to quantify results, and it can act as annuity that keeps delivering a return on the investment."

Establishing an equipment startup schedule is an easy first step. Options might include making a schedule and training staff to follow it; attaching paper schedules directly to the equipment to provide constant reminders and guidance; or installing an online program that allows managers to monitor kitchen equipment activity from anywhere at any time.

"An environmental or energy management plan is different than an environmental procurement plan or policy," says Christian. The latter tends to be more popular and typically refers to buying more local food and cutting down on packaging. "Environmental management has to do with water, electricity and gas use, along with HVAC activity. I typically divide those systems up to analyze each individually. People tend to not have a plan when it comes to using different equipment, even when boiling water for cooking pasta."

A former chef who has cooked in many countries, Christian knows the challenges of training cooks to break the old habits of leaving cooking equipment on all day. "It's important to have rules of use for each piece of equipment and to sit down with staff regularly to train them on how to use everything," he says.

The easiest thing to do is simply create schedules for pieces of equipment — the ovens, for example — and keep the schedules right next to the prep lists, Christian suggests. Listing the order of use for the ovens and making sure the right schedule aligns with the right piece of equipment also works. Schedules should do more than simply list the time needed to power up the equipment. They should also document the cooking time for each product, something prep lists should include anyway, Christian says.

"If the baker gets there at 4 a.m. and is supposed to start putting dough in the oven at 6 a.m. and the oven should be finished cooking the product by 8 a.m., that should all be clearly written on the schedule," he says. "That way if someone comes by after 8 a.m. and sees that the oven is still on, they'll know there's a problem."

Aligning the equipment on/off schedules with the prep lists also helps staff see what type of cooking needs to be done when, and can highlight opportunities to consolidate efforts. For instance, the culinary staff can schedule the turkey breasts and chickens to go in the oven right after each other, instead of staggering production, so the equipment goes on and off only once. "Otherwise it takes 10 minutes to warm up each time, then cools down, then warms up again. This on-and-off behavior causes a ridiculous amount of energy loss," Christian says.

Schedules or rules of use can even apply to equipment that isn't used for cooking, such as cleaning supplies. "Train the staff on how much cleaning product to use," Christian says, noting this is both a cost-savings and an environmental issue. "Keep measuring containers near the sinks, draw black lines using permanent markers on them to show how much water and soap to use, then monitor the soap use. If my catering business does $100,000 a month and we used two gallons of soap, and then the next month we did $50,000 in business but we're still using two gallons of soap, there's a problem." If green cleaning supplies at two or three times the cost are being used, there's an even bigger problem.

EMS Software

Foodservice operators can choose from a number of software programs for energy monitoring and management these days. An operator's needs and budgets will ultimately determine which program fits the bill.

At Papa Gino's, a pizza chain with 320-plus outlets throughout New England, Aaron Ancello, the former director of facilities for the brand, and team looked to the highest level of equipment scheduling, installing an energy management system (EMS) for its Medford, Mass., location as a test-drive to see how much they could save. "We put in rooftop variable-speed HVAC units that adjust according to need, which reduced the amount of time and energy the motors are running," Ancello says. The program's price tag of slightly more than $20,000 was offset by the $12,662 in resulting rebates and a payback of $11,627 in energy savings during the first year alone. "In theory, we actually gained a cash flow from a project that cost $11,000 after rebates," he says. During the restaurant's nonpeak hours of 1 p.m. to 4 p.m., the HVAC system will power down and use more makeup air to cool and exhaust the space.

Papa Gino's EMS also tracks lighting use throughout the space, alerts management if walk-in or other refrigerator doors remain open too long, and runs a general on/off schedule for all pieces of equipment in the kitchen. In fact, the program will actually lock out the ovens and other equipment to prevent staff from turning on the appliances before 10 a.m., when lunch prep and service begins. For example, a team member who is not sure what the turn-on time is will not be able to turn on the fryer when it's not needed. Only a special code available just for managers can override these locked controls.

"We found you don't need to do everything at once when it comes to energy management," Ancello says. "Simply from being in the field, it was common to find cooking equipment on prior to the restaurant opening. [Equipment startup schedules] just seemed like a low-hanging fruit and an easy opportunity to save energy. It was simply about not having a cook walk in at 7 a.m., cook bacon and leave the oven on the rest of the day." Taking it one step further, he continues, "variable speed motors can pay dividends and are worth the extra investment. The reaction of the operations crew when they see their energy bill drop by multiple percentage points instead of 1 percent or 2 percent is huge."

This is especially huge for franchisees, which account for 40 of the current Papa Gino's locations, because they can immediately see the impact of a change in behavior, Ancello says. With rising food and transportation costs, energy management will increase in terms of importance for those operators looking for cost-saving opportunities.

"Energy reduction is a matter of corporate and social responsibility," Ancello says. "It's the right thing to do, number one, seeing as we're all here for a short time and don't want to leave the world in worse shape than we entered it in — this is the basis for the idea of reducing carbon footprint."

Inspired Illumination

Even setting lighting on startup schedules can save dollars. Kevin Falconer, senior director of design for Brinker International, found this to be the case when Chili's installed not only a full LED lamp retrofit, but also dimmers attached to the lighting.

At $39 per lamp (compared to a cost of just 39 cents each for mainstream bulbs) and with about 200 lamps per restaurant (827 units systemwide), switching to the right mixture of CFLs, incandescent and other energy-saving lightbulbs was a significant investment. But, the team found that it paid off in less than two years through savings. "Everything from that point on is just gravy," Falconer says.

The fact that most of the lamps carry a five-year or longer replacement warranty also justified the initial costs, especially because the new lamps extended the life of an average bulb from between 800 to 3,000 hours (three to eight months) to between 25,000 and 50,000 hours, or eight years. "We've had lower electricity and labor costs," Falconer says. "And our lighting environment has actually improved; the ambiance is more contemporary and relevant, and the staff likes it, too.

"We tested a few options, including using operators and professional installers to install the bulbs," he says. The chain decided that using professionals was the way to go; the whole system was completed in a couple of hours for a lamp change-out only, and the process was completed during off-hours. Bulbs and dimmers are "better quality today than two years ago, but there is a lot of variety in terms of the quality, so it's important to do your research on vendors." Falconer recommends not "putting all your eggs in one basket," either. Rather, it's good to compare price and capabilities between companies, he says.

Papa Gino's also looked to controlled lighting for additional energy savings, Ancello says. "The EMS also controls the lighting," he says. "It will turn on inside lights only when a place opens, and control the outside lighting as needed."

The simple act of installing more light switches can take care of overused lighting, Christian says. "Many kitchens have one light that switches on all the lights at one time. If it's early in the morning and only the baker is in the kitchen working in one area, not all of the lights in the kitchen need to be on," he says.

Measuring Sustainability

Implementing energy management systems and/or equipment startup schedules is one thing. Measuring the energy savings resulting from these systems is another. "Put separate meters throughout the kitchen to monitor energy use for different equipment pieces or areas," Christian suggests. "Then, compare energy use to dollars invested in energy savings or compare it to meals served per day. Once you have separate meters, it's also easier to see if you have a cook, dishwasher or baker blowing through energy use on a daily or weekly basis."

Meters don't have to be that expensive, either, Christian says. "You can bring in a plumber or electrician to help install them, or simply buy some smaller, more affordable ones." The bottom line is to measure what you manage. "Without it, no one is responsible."

Ancello would agree. When it comes to energy management system software, though these programs are generally designed to be easy to use, one can't just install a program and walk away. "EMS systems work only as well as they are managed," Ancello says. "You have to regularly watch for any overrides, adjust lighting settings, and monitor other alerts like when the walk-in door is open. Otherwise, it will not pay back."

Learning Opportunities

Once a bastion for bad behavior when it comes to turning equipment on . . . and on, many culinary schools have not only reversed their practices, but now lead the industry when it comes to equipment monitoring and startup/shutdown schedules.

As part of a massive dining room/teaching kitchen overhaul at Chicago-based Kendall College (described by Ed Norman, FCSI, president of MVP Services Group Inc., in FE&S' April 2011 issue), the school installed an equipment monitoring system that not only measures energy use and activity on a 24/7 basis, but also prominently displays energy savings information for students through a large-screen monitor. The state-of-the-art equipment monitoring system also controls the exhaust systems, all of which are equipped with infrared technology to automatically power up or down depending on whether food has been placed on a burner. Another energy-saving process allows students to manually turn off pilot lights on equipment at the end of each night. The Kendall team determined the school is using 40 percent less energy through this type of hood system compared to traditional HVAC.

A handful of hood manufacturers now offer online equipment monitoring software that works in tandem with both demand-control ventilation and infrared hood technology. In Portland, Ore., students at Redmond High School learn about energy savings through these types of systems.

"We made the kitchen part of the learning that goes on in the school," says Ray Soucie, FCSI, LEED AP, principal of RSA Inc. in Portland, Ore., noting that the school will soon be LEED Gold certified. "There is a plasma TV mounted in the classroom where kids can see active adjustments of motorized dampers in duct systems. Every time one hood goes on, another goes off, so the kids can see how much energy the school is saving."

Like many other environmentally friendly endeavors, establishing equipment startup schedules can benefit other areas of a foodservice operation. The challenge, however, does not lie in implementing these practices — rather the difficulty is often in dedicating the time to get started. Once operators see the benefits of these efforts, though, they tend to quickly gain momentum.