Restaurant Costs

Reduce Restaurant Costs with 9 Modern Energy Control Systems

By David J. Alexander

Thin profit margins in the restaurant business can put significant pressure on operating budgets. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, the average restaurant only turns 3-9% of total revenue into profit. Additionally, restaurants use 5-7 times more energy per square foot than other commercial buildings, with at least 25% of that consumption going toward HVAC systems.

As such, cutting costs on restaurants' HVAC system operations is vital to the financial health of the business. Installing modern energy control systems is one of the most effective ways restaurants can save money and meet new energy efficiency codes and mandates, including California's Title 24 Building Energy Efficiency Standards.

Consider these energy control systems
Lower utility bills, sustainable lighting efforts, more efficient operations and improved customer comfort—especially key for kitchen environments that can reach exceedingly high temperatures—are all goals that restaurants can achieve through efficient HVAC systems.

Here are 9 control systems that can be installed to improve restaurant system operations.

  1. Demand-controlled ventilation (DCV). Instead of simply being set to "on" or "off," DCV systems automatically adjust kitchen hood exhaust airflow depending on the status of the appliance. When cooking is taking place, the ventilation controls operate at maximum levels to capture heat and energy waste from appliances. The ventilation controls are then lowered when appliances are idle and turned off completely when they aren’t in use. Considering the daily customer volume peaks and valleys restaurants experience, this kind of control can save 30-50% on exhaust system costs.1
  2. Variable frequency drives (VFD). VFD systems automatically adjust air volume to meet the known cubic feet per minute (CFM) value. This is accomplished by readings taken on the VFD control panel, which can be set to levels that find the right balance between saving energy and ensuring a healthy and clean air supply.
  3. Customized HVAC motors and pumps. Work with an HVAC contractor to design and implement HVAC motors and pumps that are optimized for your business. Restaurants that experience a steady flow of customer traffic will have different HVAC needs than those that see substantial ebbs and flows.
  4. Lighting occupancy sensors. Restaurant employees and kitchen staff may overlook energy-efficient use of restaurant lighting, especially in bathrooms or when leaving the kitchen at the end of a shift. Installing lighting occupancy sensors, now part of California’s Title 24 building energy code standards, is one method to ensure sustainability. It ensures that the lights turn on when movement is detected, such as an employee entering a stock room, and go out automatically when not in use.
  5. Programmable thermostats. Take heating and cooling controls out of employees’ hands by installing programmable thermostats. Vary the settings for peak periods for more comfortable temperatures when business will be heavier. The addition of ceiling fans can also allow a thermostat to be set to a higher temperature, thus saving money on restaurant heating and cooling.
  6. Geothermal heat pumps. These heat pumps tap into the ground below the restaurant. The pumps use water or other liquids to cycle restaurant heating and cooling from under the building based on the temperature needs of the restaurant above.
  7. Energy recovery. Restaurants always have to be ready for the next health inspection. Desiccant energy recovery systems can eliminate condensation and reduce humidity throughout the building, almost eliminating the growth of mold, mildew and bacteria. Make sure to also consider desiccant energy recovery in the replacement process of your dining area HVAC system.2 Lower humidity levels can ease the burden on a restaurant heating and cooling system.
  8. Integrate kitchen exhaust and building HVAC controls. For new restaurants, and in the case of some retrofits, utility bills can be significantly reduced and kitchen comfort improved by integrating kitchen exhaust and ventilation controls into the restaurant HVAC system. Integration provides replacement air for the kitchen via the rooftop HVAC system. In many cases, integrating the kitchen exhaust and ventilation controls into the HVAC system can also provide a more comfortable environment for customers as well as improve the kitchen area comfort level.
  9. Energy management systems and software. Restaurants can benefit most from the evolution of technology, with many appliances, building devices and systems connected wirelessly to each other. For restaurant owners and managers, this means being able to manage lighting controls, ventilation controls and heating and cooling controls for HVAC and lighting systems from the convenience of a computer, tablet or smartphone. Power management software can also be installed on computer operating systems to keep them from running at full energy consumption when not in use.

Next step to implementation
Restaurant owners or managers who are interested in implementing any of these modern energy control systems can reference the ENERGY STAR program to find the most energy- and cost-saving technologies available. Such information, along with the rebates and incentives offered by PG&E, can reduce financial pressures that may come with energy-efficient restaurant designs or retrofits.

Restaurants and other food service businesses can download "The Complete Guide to Working with a Lighting or HVAC Contractor" eBook from PG&E and get the most out of working with a lighting or HVAC contractor through installation of ventilation, heating and cooling control systems.

Referenced in article:
Gain the most benefit from your #restaurant utility costs with these 9 control systems:
  • SMB Blog Author
    David J. Alexander
    Senior Product Manager of Customer Energy Solutions for PG&E, plays a large role in the products and solutions that support SMBs. Involved in the company's energy-efficiency programs since 2006, Dave is also an energy solutions manager for the field engineering services team. He's been instrumental in the design and launch of PG&E's initial LED-focused programs and continues to serve as one its leading lighting experts in the field.

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