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Energy Efficiency in Commercial Kitchens

man serving foodAccording to a study published in the International Journal of Low-Carbon Technologies, 45% to 70% of the wasted electric energy in commercial kitchens is due to behavioural factors and poor maintenance. While improved personnel management can address the loss of energy caused by human interaction, there are several other steps that can aid in bringing a commercial kitchen up to being more energy efficient.

Where Do You Start?

Creating a plan of action for cutting back on the consumption of energy can only be achieved when all of the facts are in. A timeline needs to be established in order to measure the output of energy in each designated area. This can be done by installing individual meters in prep stations, fry areas, refrigeration supply rooms, air handling and so on. You can further target specific equipment, like ovens and lighting. Once you have a time limit established, you have a base to start with.

Comparison of Other Establishments

While waiting on the numbers to multiply, begin a study of how much energy other establishments use. Although limited number of studies have been conducted in the restaurant industry, there are comparisons of whole building use of energy in the catering industry. A common timeline to use is one year. This period will include the various seasons and an estimate of slow and busy operations. A great example of comparison was conducted by the Technologies for Sustainable Built Environments (TSBE) where patterns of appliance use, electricity wattage and targeted equipment were measured in consumption usage. NoWatt Limited provided transformers that were fitted to breakers in the distribution boards of the incoming electricity supplies.

14 buildings that regularly cooked food items including burgers, pies, sausages, hot sandwiches and casseroles, were outfitted with the transformers in each of these areas:

  • Warewashing
  • Freezers and Refrigerators
  • Cooking
  • Lighting
  • Air Handling

Results of Combined Establishments

The electric consumption of the combined categories varied on peak seasons and hours of the day, but the average usage broke down as follows:

  • 4% -Warewashing
  • 28%-Freezers and Refrigerators
  • 42%-Cooking
  • 10%-Lighting
  • 16%-Air Handling

With each one of these categories now defined as to the percentage of energy consumption, the wattage provided by the transformers can now be separated and read. In this particular study, the results were as follows:

  • 28%-Refrigerators
  • 13%-Freezers
  • 12%-Grills
  • 13%-Steamers and Bain Marie
  • 7% -Heat Lamps
  • 15%-Fryers
  • 12%-Ovens

Your commercial kitchen may vary according to type of cuisine, hours of operation or other relevant factors. However, this study can give you a good starting point to see if the numbers are in line with your current usage. One particular area may jump out at you and give you a critical area to start with. For example, if you only have one walk-in freezer and the percentage of usage is running 20%, there may be a problem with electricity escaping. If the numbers seem to fall into line with those presented, start a program to decrease numbers even further.

Ideas for Becoming More Energy Efficient

An energy consultant can remove a lot of stress and time from your hands by conducting an evaluation on your appliances, site placement and lost energy. This move could be money well spent in identifying, planning and rectifying energy consumption problems. If you would rather be involved in the process, take the process one step at a time.

Placement and Air Handling

Work area placement and air handling go hand-in-hand in a commercial kitchen. You may have inherited a building that was set up for cooking, but the layout could be all wrong. Not only will decreased employee productivity occur, but inadequate air flow could overwork HVAC equipment and vent hoods. This can lead to an unhealthy work environment, higher utility bills and increased safety violations. Refrigerator and freezer condensers are forced to work overtime, increasing the likelihood for repair and replacement. Before looking at individual pieces of equipment for cost-saving energy consumption options, have a whole building assessment done in regard to inefficient ventilation systems. It may be necessary to do a sweeping rearrangement of your facility, break off HVAC into zones or upgrade your air flow system.

Refrigerators and Freezers

It may seem that your walk-in cooling equipment is working fine, but is it? Refrigerators and freezers are the largest energy consumers in a commercial kitchen. Quick energy-saving tips for your refrigerator equipment include:

  • Avoid overloading
  • Install door closers and alarms
  • Set foods at recommended temperatures
  • Ventilation panels are clear

Simple precautions can save up to 10% in energy costs. You should also have a regular maintenance schedule in place for checking controls, seals and condensers regularly. However, these steps alone may not benefit you as much as looking into new equipment that have intelligent controllers, improved motor fans, better circuit design for optimised performance and improved air movement, hydrocarbon refrigerant, fan cut-out switches, and other technically-improved features. The cost of replacement may seem huge, but a 50% cut in wasted energy is well worth the investment.


Grills have always been at the control of the operator. Depending on the employee interaction, a grill could be one of your largest energy hogs. Upgrading to a new model that uses infra-red elements and switches itself on only when activated by a product being placed under the heat source has proven to save nearly 80% in energy consumption.

Steamers and Bain Marie

The days of boiler-based steamers are coming to an end. New, commercial Connectionless models are making an impact on how steaming is used. Not only is there a huge reduction in water (40 gallons of water per hour versus 2 gallons of water per hour), but improved insulation reduces heat loss and provides better efficiency.


Fryers are not immune to new technology. New models offer cooking with less oil, faster cooking and sensors that detect filter replacement. With a new heat exchange design, heat is retained and energy saved.


Ovens are a must in any commercial kitchen. If you do not have a Combi-oven, now is the time to look into them. Compared to conventional ovens, energy costs can be cut by 50%. Combined features of convection, steam and combination cooking not only speed up cooking time, but have improved air circulation.

Other measures can also aid in reducing energy costs in a commercial kitchen. For example, microwave ovens can save as much as 90% energy compared to conventional ovens for heating up foods. This is an inexpensive option for reducing electricity. Water consumption is not cheap and today’s improved dishwashers can save up to 30% with smaller wash tanks and reusing waste water. Never overlook the obvious. Lighting and heat lamps can be silently stealing energy. Check for the latest in energy-saving bulbs and place timers on lights so lights are never accidentally left on.

Knowing where to begin in better management of your energy consumption in the commercial kitchen does not have to be an impossible task. These ideas may sound like a lot of money, but by starting with a plan, understanding your energy usage, and addressing each area one by one, you can find yourself saving more money in the end. Run the consumption numbers, realize where your largest problems are and take them in order of importance.

Also check into gas versus electricity for added savings and always choose Energy Star rated equipment for the best energy savings. The UK also offers tax incentives through the Enhanced Capital Allowance (ECA)and the the Carbon Trust provides interest-free energy loans to SMEs.