13.06: Energy Considerations
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This section was written by Riki Nanno.
Foodservice facilities such as restaurants, hotels, commissary kitchens, and cafeterias use more than three times as much energy to operate than any other commercial facilities. These energy resources are precious and costly, yet essential to the foodservice operation as it is used to power equipment such as ovens, furnaces, water heaters, lights, microwaves, restroom fixtures, refrigerators, and the list goes on. It is why we should learn the basics of these energy resources and how we can do our part to only use what is necessary to operate our kitchens. Let's first start with definitions.
Natural Gas (NG): The name can be confusing to some, as it may invoke images of gasoline that you use for your car, but make no mistake, these are two completely different resources. Natural gas, which primarily consists of methane (CH4), is the cleanest burning and most energy-dense fossil fuel and is actually a gas (unlike gasoline). It is naturally found underground and is extracted, refined, and stored for later use in large natural underground reservoirs. It is also a byproduct of many industries, such as the cattle industry. In short, manure and gas expelled by cattle are the sources of methane in this scenario. In the future, you will see many gas utilities utilizing new technologies, which offer the potential to capture methane and put it into their transmission lines as a renewable resource. In the foodservice industry, it is mainly used to cook food, and heat water.
Water (H2O): Water, the basis of life on earth. Freshwater makes up a very small fraction of all water on the planet. While nearly 70 percent of the world is covered by water, only 2.5 percent of it is fresh. The rest is saline and ocean-based. Even then, just 1 percent of our freshwater is easily accessible, with much of it trapped in glaciers and snowfields. In essence, only 0.007 percent of the planet's water is available to fuel and feed its 7.8 billion people. It is more important than ever to conserve this resource and find new ways we can access it. In the foodservice industry, it is mainly used for cooking, washing & sanitation, beverages, landscape, and entertainment.
Electricity: Electricity itself is a little different than natural gas and water because it takes another resource in order to create or generate electricity. We can't simply dig in the ground and look for electricity. It must be created by harnessing natural renewable sources *(19%) such as rivers (dams), the wind (wind turbines), the sun (solar panels), and heat from the ground (geothermal). The more common way electricity is generated is by burning another fuel source to create heat to turn steam generators, which create electricity. These sources are natural gas (37%), coal (24%), and nuclear (19%). In the foodservice world, electricity is primarily used for refrigeration, freezers, lighting, and specialty equipment and devices.
Photo by Riccardo Annandale on Unsplash
Conservation vs Industry Needs
It is clear that these resources are finite and precious, and it takes a great deal of innovation and industrial power to make these sources of energy a reality. We should do our best to conserve them. There are two distinctive pillars in which we can understand and make part of our daily choices as we live our lives. Let's explore these pillars with respect to the three resources we just learned about.
Efficiency: Achieving maximum productivity with minimum wasted effort or expense. Do more, with less. This idea can be applied to almost any aspect of life, but in the world of foodservice equipment, it can really improve the speed and quality of the food while keeping operating costs lower. Let's see what happens in an efficient fryer when frying our favorite French fries. As you put a batch of fries into the hot oil, the oil temperature drops from its initial set temperature of 350℉ because the fries are moist and cold. The fryer senses the oil has dropped in temperature, so it fires up the burners to heat the temperature of the oil back up to 350℉. Now, in an efficient fryer, the time it takes to recover that drop in temperature is much shorter than a non-efficient fryer. The implications of this shorter time for recovery is something any French fry connoisseur would be highly interested in. The fries will be cooked more quickly, which means you can produce more, which means you can sell more and decrease the wait time for guests. The fries will also be crispier because the properly heated oil doesn’t saturate the fries. This is the proposition of efficiency when it comes to foodservice equipment, high-performance!
Reliability: Something that yields the same result on a repeated basis, may sound like a simple idea but in the world of foodservice and energy resources, it can have big implications to the operator. There are many ways to look at reliability, but financial reliability in foodservice can mean the difference between a year with good profits and the next year at a loss. Restaurants work on a very narrow margin of profit and reliability of prices for their food ingredients and utilities that can dig into their bottom line. The challenge is that the operator is tied to using electricity or natural gas for the lifetime of the equipment. Most equipment lasts longer than twelve years, if properly maintained. Imagine owning a bakery and purchasing an expensive electric oven and after a few years of use, the electricity rate jumps higher, now your workhorse electric oven now costs more money to operate because electricity prices fluctuate and it's not feasible to switch to a natural gas unit, so the operator must grin and bear paying for a higher utility bill until that equipment is replaced. There is also reliability of the energy source itself. Let's take solar energy as an example; What if California switched all its electricity generation to solar? What would happen if it rained and it was cloudy for a few days? How would we generate the energy lost from the clouds blocking the solar panels? These are questions that need to be considered by the utility customer. Making important energy decisions can make or break your business and operators must plan for the future by being active in the legislative decisions being made in California. There are many energy options so finding the right combination of solutions that provides flexibility in the way we generate and use resources is the key to providing the reliability they need for foodservice operations so they can thrive.
Photo by Taylor Grote on Unsplash
These concepts are great, but let's explore what individuals can do to make a difference. Here are a few steps anyone can take to play an active part in conserving our resources.
Educate yourself! Knowing how basic systems work that are part of your everyday life would give you the basis for deciding if you can do anything about being more energy conscious. Being curious and asking questions on things you don’t understand will go a long way and is the basis of the desire to understand and being proactive in your efforts. Once you have these basics, one can easily make small changes that can make a big impact. For example, when thawing foods, many times people put the food under running water to thaw it out. On average, a single cold-water thawing method session uses up to 660 gallons of water! To put this into perspective, it takes about 17 gallons of water to take a shower. So, one single water thawing session is equivalent to 39 showers! What could have been done to prevent this enormous waste of perfectly clean water? Simple planning of the needs of the kitchen production a few days ahead so that the food items to be defrosted should have been taken out of the freezer and placed in the refrigerator to slowly thaw over the next couple of days. Many of these examples only take knowledge & awareness, a personal conviction to take action, and planning foresight & planning.
If you are in a position in the food service industry where you can make decisions on large projects that can have a long-lasting impact, there are plenty of resources that you can take advantage of before making these big decisions. Making energy-conscious decisions on food service equipment can make a big impact on overall resource consumption and performance. Utilities have many no-cost programs and services set in place for customers to take advantage of. One of the more popular programs is direct incentive cash rebates to customers who choose to purchase qualifying products. The utilities have created and maintained a Qualified Products List that customers can look up to see if a rebate is available for a particular model of equipment. Paired with this rebate program is a Try Before You Buy program that allows customers interested in trying out a particular piece of equipment with their own ingredients and recipes to make sure that the investment they make is the appropriate one to their operational and financial needs. Also, if you are unsure on what exactly you can do to make efficient changes, there are Energy Survey consultation that you can schedule to work with an energy specialist that can come to the facility and can assess everything from possible equipment replacements to identifying opportunities such as insulating hot water pipes to increase efficiency in the facility. A comprehensive report of their findings would be created that would quantify the proposed dollar savings. This can be useful for upper management when creating a case to change out inefficient equipment.
Oftentimes, it takes inspiration from others on what is possible on a larger scale to spur action from individuals to make a difference within that system. For example, a grocery chain has invested millions of dollars in a project that turns wasted rotting food into natural gas. As rotting organic matter like food decomposes, it emits methane (the key component of natural gas). Methane is also a Greenhouse Gas (GHG) that has a high Global Warming Potential (GWP), meaning that when methane that is unburned is released into the atmosphere, it acts as a blanket insulating earth and increases global temperatures. As the world population increases, more people will have to be fed and unfortunately, more food is wasted, and if nothing is done to contain this methane from escaping into the atmosphere, it will directly contribute to increasing global temperatures. The grocery chain has created a way to harvest this methane by collecting it in large storage tanks where enzymes and heat are added to rapidly decompose this wasted food so that it can emit this methane into a machine that purifies and stores this methane for future use for many other applications, such as heating water heaters and furnaces, and even powering natural gas vehicles and trucks. This example really takes a big problem of methane emissions that would otherwise affect the atmosphere and harnesses it into a solution that everyone can use. Even though this solution is on a large scale, it now gives you the power to act in a way that can mitigate the effects of methane in the atmosphere by simply reducing wasted food by purchasing what you only need and planning ahead. Your wallet will thank you and so will generations to come.
Career Spotlight: Foodservice Equipment Rep
The food service industry provides a variety of career paths that allow you to grow and experience different angles of the industry. A Hospitality degree can help you hit the ground running and give you an advantage in starting a career in the foodservice equipment industry.
I have been employed in the foodservice industry for a majority of my adult life - I started my career in a marketing role for a cooking equipment manufacturer, moved on to a Regional Sales Manager for a refrigeration manufacturer, took on the role of Workforce Education & Training Manager for a foodservice equipment research facility specializing in educating the industry on energy efficiency, and most recently a Foodservice Equipment Representative (rep). This most recent role as a rep has allowed me to utilize all of my experiences and my energy efficiency knowledge to better serve and help my customers.
An equipment rep or manufacturer’s rep is essentially a ‘middle-man’ who represents several brands of equipment. The rep is independent of the factories they represent, but they are paid a commission by the factory for the equipment they sell in their territory. As an equipment rep, you need to understand the distribution and supply chain for the foodservice industry. There are several paths to getting equipment from the manufacturer to the customer (end-user). In most cases, a sales rep provides support for local equipment dealers and/or distributors. In some cases, reps are starting to build relationships with end-users (customers) to help drive the sales of their brands. A rep also works with consultants who design food service establishments. A rep is expected to be the local expert on the equipment brands they sell. They provide the support prior to the sale, assist with facilitating the purchase, provide hands-on equipment training after the install, and provide post-sale support as well.
The foodservice industry does not only consist of restaurants and bars, it includes other segments that have foodservice operations such as School Foodservice, Healthcare Foodservice, Business & Industry (B&I), College & University Foodservice, Corrections Foodservice, and sometimes even Marine Foodservice. Each segment presents unique equipment needs.
Not only is it important to understand the supply chain, pricing, and segments, it is also important to understand the operation side, or the customer’s side, to determine the best solutions for their needs. Foodservice establishments do not tend to have high cash flow as one may think, and it is important for foodservice operators to keep their costs down. Foodservice is energy-intensive and one way to assist operators with lowering their overhead is to implement energy efficiency best practices and invest in energy-efficient equipment that cannot only cost less to operate but also offers benefits beyond the energy savings, such as improved performance, quicker recovery, better controls, etc.
As an equipment rep with an energy-efficiency and hospitality background, I am able to educate my customer’s on how to implement best practices that allow them to conserve energy and water and ultimately lower their operating costs. A lot of these are no-cost or low-cost strategies that can have big rewards or savings. When it comes to purchasing equipment or other big-ticket items, I can help them understand the return on investment (ROI) for purchasing energy-efficient appliances. These appliances typically come with a bigger price tag, but once I explain how the upfront investment pays off through reduced operating costs and improved performance the story is easier to tell.
In my role with my rep firm, I am end-user focused, meaning that I get to work with the customer and provide education and resources to help line them up with the best solutions for their operations. I enjoy the opportunity to work closely with the customer, to provide the training after they purchase the equipment, and make sure they understand how to make the equipment work for them. It is rewarding and fun and who doesn’t love a shiny new piece of kitchen equipment.
Janel Rupp graduated in 1999 from Arizona State University with a degree in Recreation Management with an emphasis in Hospitality and Tourism and currently works as a foodservice equipment rep near Seattle, Washington.
"Untitled" by Janel Rupp is licensed under CC BY-NC 4.0