Reducing energy use can result in more cost savings than you might anticipate. Taking advantage of the low-hanging fruit, like switching over to LED lighting, is a good start, but the real savings happen when you outfit your restaurant with efficient kitchen equipment, says Tarah Schroeder of Ricca Design Studios.
The problem is the expense involved. This year, Schroeder helped advise the city of Boulder as part of a yearlong energy reduction pilot with the restaurant industry there. She was tasked with finding solutions to reduce energy 10 to 20 percent. She says now that 8 to 16 percent is a more realistic figure, adding that city officials are starting to realize they must reduce the time it takes for restaurants to recoup their ROI on efficient equipment purchases.
Here are some of her takeaways:
Energy use at restaurants is not easily understood
Every city is looking for ways to reduce energy use. They want restaurants to be involved, but because so much about their energy use is unknown, they’re typically not part of the conversation. Even though a city like Boulder might have an aggressive energy policy, officials see restaurants as something of a big black box. They don’t understand how restaurants use energy or what kind of incentives could be developed to help them. And every restaurant is different. It’s not just about reducing heating or cooling. A restaurant’s energy use often depends on the type of concept it is, the food it provides and its hours of operation.
High turnover rates can make tracking problematic
One thing she discovered — from the city’s perspective — was that restaurants have a high rate of failure, so tracking their energy usage is difficult, especially if the restaurant closes within a year or two of opening. Officials need to track energy use of specific kitchen equipment for longer periods of time.
The ROI period needs to be shorter
We all know using more efficient equipment keeps energy use and costs down. But purchasing those pieces are expensive and recouping the investment can take years. Depending on the equipment, the size of the kitchen and the output, payback at an existing restaurant could take 11 to 21 years. For many operators, that’s a long time to wait. If the equipment is purchased before the restaurant opens for business, the ROI is about a year.
Reducing energy could result in utility cost savings
At three different restaurants in Boulder, the savings were significant, she says. One reduced energy use 12 percent and saved $5,000 a year in utility costs. Another reduced energy consumption 8 percent and will save $2,800 a year. The third reduced usage 16 percent and is on track to save about $3,500 a year. “There is a lot of money to be saved. Even if you’re a small operation and reduce your usage 5 percent, you could save anywhere from $1,000 to $3,000 a year. That’s money going straight into your pocket.”
This article originally appeared in National Restaurant Association.