Reducing restaurant energy use good for customer, utility, community

Whether it is a local diner that serves as the community’s unofficial meeting hall, a five-star destination for “foodies” across the state or a significant industry in a resort town, almost every utility can count at least one restaurant among its commercial customers.

These businesses use five to seven times more energy per square foot than other commercial buildings. In its Guide for Restaurants Redirecting to a non-government site, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that when a restaurant cuts its energy costs by 20 percent, its profits could increase by 30 percent or more. That’s why Western customers like Salt River Project Redirecting to a non-government site and Sacramento Municipal Utility District Redirecting to a non-government site work with restaurants to increase their energy efficiency.

Not the usual suspects

(Artwork by Sustainable Food Service)
(Artwork by Sustainable Food Service)


Restaurants use the bulk of their energy during food preparation, so the lighting programs that help to reduce utility bills for offices and retail stores won’t have the same impact for these customers. Take the average deep fryer, for example—it uses more than 18,000 kilowatt-hours and costs around $1,800 per year to operate. Refrigeration and water heating are two more functions that consume large quantities of energy. Utilities with a lot of food service businesses in their territory might consider establishing an incentive program to encourage them to upgrade their equipment. Such programs would also benefit hotels, hospitals, grocery stores and residential institutions.

If you do not have enough restaurants and similar operations in your territory to warrant a targeted incentive program, you can still provide business owners with good advice and technical assistance. Start by sharing these five guidelines from the EPA for maximizing the efficiency of food prep equipment:

  1. Reduce idle time. Keeping equipment on when it isn’t in use costs money and wastes energy. Implementing a startup and shutdown schedule for energy intensive equipment like broilers, fryers and ranges is a good first step toward managing energy use.
  2. Maintain your equipment. Improper seals, leaks, dirty coils and faulty equipment all waste energy and money. Incorporating a regular cleaning and maintenance schedule for all equipment will significantly improve efficiency.
  3. Calibrate your equipment. Perform a regular thermostat check to be sure that your freezers, refrigerators, appliances, dishwashers and hot water heaters are operating at their optimal temperatures.
  4. Install variable speed controls on your exhaust hood to dramatically reduce the run time for fans.
  5. Buy Energy Star-certified equipment Redirecting to a non-government site when replacement becomes necessary. Fryers, steamers, convection ovens, griddles, broilers, combination ovens, ranges, reach-in refrigerators and freezers, walk-in refrigerators and freezers and ice machines are all available with an Energy Star certification.

Sending these tips as a bill stuffer to your restaurant and hospitality customers might even inspire them to think about making bigger investments in energy efficiency.

Low-hanging fruit on menu
Food preparation and storage may be the biggest source of energy savings for restaurants, but lighting and heating and cooling (HVAC) systems are still worth upgrading.

Common lighting measures include replacing T12 lamps and electronic ballasts with T8 lamps and magnetic ballasts. Replacing exit and incandescent or neon signage with LED signage, and installing occupancy sensors for low traffic areas can also make a difference on electricity bills.

Just like kitchen appliances, HVAC equipment performs better with regular cleaning and maintenance. Programmable thermostats are another inexpensive way to improve HVAC efficiency. When it is time to replace the HVAC system, encourage the building owner to invest in an Energy Star HVAC system for significant savings over the life of the equipment. No matter who is paying the utility bills, keeping operating costs down is good for business.

Restaurants are big water users, too, which is why several California utilities, including the City of Palo Alto Utilities Redirecting to a non-government site, offer incentives for reduced water use fixtures. Sustainable Food Service Redirecting to a non-government site recommends installing aerators and especially pre-rinse spray valves as a low-cost way to reduce water use for dishwashing.

Help for the little guy
One more reason for utilities to take an interest in restaurant energy use is that many are small, locally owned establishments. By helping these businesses to keep their operating costs down, power providers are supporting their communities. Check out these resources from the U.S. Small Business Administration for more ideas on serving up energy savings for restaurants. Your customers—and community—will thank you.

Better Buildings Through Partnership: An Update from Boulder County

Ann Livingston, Sustainability Coordinator, Boulder County

Boulder has received an EECBG grant for $25 million to replicate programs the city has been pursuing for years to reduce its carbon footprint through more efficient buildings.

In 2005, the city adopted greenhouse gas emission reduction goals that reflect the Kyoto Protocols and are more ambitious than the state goals. The target is a city with net zero waste and energy.

Prior to Xcel launching its home audit program, Boulder’s Residential Energy Action program subsidized energy audits for city homeowners. Post-audit counseling was offered to encourage audit participants to make recommended improvements. Consumers who now get audits from Xcel can still get counseling from Boulder.

Audit participants who did take action invested about $7,000 in upgrades on average. The city launched the Climate Smart loan program to add more funding for improvements–$3,550 for energy efficiency-only projects, and up to $13,000 for projects that encompass both renewable energy and energy efficiency.

The overarching program goal for BetterBuildings program is to provide a one-stop shop for energy efficiency that will overcome the traditional barriers to consumer’s investing in energy efficiency. The city aims to save $100 million annually and to create jobs with the program.

RFPs for the residential, commercial and joint contractor services have been awarded. The city plans a soft launch for the program from late October to December.

BetterBuildings will provide energy audits with focused one-on-on assistance, financial assist and ongoing support. Energy Corps, a local business, will do onsite air sealing during blower door tests. An “energy concierge” facilitates conversion by helping homeowner to find contractors, apply for rebates, microloans and other financing. The cost will be same or close to Xcel’s audit program.

Xcel, Boulder’s power provider, is assisting with some of the direct installs. The city has synched up call centers with Xcel. The target is to hit 10,000 homes in three years.

Boulder’s commercial program involves direct outreach through neighborhood sweeps to identify energy-saving opportunities in small businesses. Rebates are available to encourage business owners to do maintenance that would improve efficiency, or to change out old, inefficiency equipment and systems.

Program partners include Xcel, which assisted Boulder with the application, marketing and implementation, and the city of Longmont, which helped with program design. Contractors and labor helped in the application phase and will help with marketing.

In the next phase of BetterBuildings, the city will work on successfully engaging contractors to sell energy efficiency, and not just “granite countertops.” Bringing the programs to self-sufficiency in three years is another goal, as is continued job growth and a sustainable jobs market. For every federal dollar spent, another 70 cents of Boulder money was spent. Developing closer partnerships with utilities will smooth the way to the goals.