Challenges and Barriers to Adoption

Energy efficient milk coolers like this one receive a $500 utility rebate
Energy efficient milk coolers like this one receive a $500 utility rebate

Minimum efficiency standards do not currently exist for appliances in the commercial food service industry. In the absence of regulation, restaurant owners and facility managers must lead the way by specifying energy efficient cooking appliances.

Although the Energy Star program provides a good starting point for finding energy efficient cooking appliances, not all appliances are covered by this program. For appliance types not rated by Energy Star, facilities can research energy efficiency options through resources such as the Food Service Technology Center, which provides appliance testing and rating results for several non-Energy Star appliances.  Additionally, Southern California Gas (SCG) publishes a food service gas equipment catalog that identifies efficient options.

Some restaurant owners and facility managers are loyal to particular equipment brands and may be hesitant to purchase an energy efficient appliance manufactured by a different brand.  To address this concern, SCG’s Food Service Equipment Center makes over 150 pieces of energy efficient equipment available, free of charge, so that restaurants can try out their own recipes on new equipment prior to making a purchase.

Even with utility rebates, energy efficient appliances can be more expensive than their conventional counterparts.  First cost is a significant hurdle in the food service industry, which typically operates on low margins, even when efficient appliances could result in a 10-30% reduction in utility costs. The first cost barrier can be amplified in the case of leased equipment. Because the leasing company is not directly affected by the energy use of the equipment it purchases, there is no incentive for it to offer energy efficient options without significant demand from its customers.

Despite these challenges, however, energy efficient commercial cooking appliances offer significant savings opportunities for the early adopters who choose to install them.


Photo Credit: Norlake


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Insulated holding cabinets like this one are 48% more energy efficient
Insulated holding cabinets like this one are 48% more energy efficient
Large Scale Retrofits Case Study


At one million square-feet, the Oregon Convention Center is the largest convention center in the Pacific Northwest.  When the LEED-certified convention center needed to expand its kitchen, operators looked for ways to increase kitchen capacity while maintaining the facility’s high efficiency standards.  Assisted by their local food service supplier, the convention center replaced 28 hot-food holding cabinets with 30 new Energy Star qualified units.  These new cabinets save the convention center over 200,000 kWh each year, which translates into over $12,000 in utility bill savings annually.

The Oregon Convention Center food service operators are also pleased with the non-energy features of their new equipment. With these new hot-food holding cabinets, the convention center has experienced improved food quality and better temperature control, as well as safer kitchen operations due to improved insulation.  The Energy Star qualified cabinets are also more comfortable and convenient, with ergonomic handles and hands-free access.


Photo Credit: Cambro

With glass door refrigerators, contents are viewable without opening the doors
With glass door refrigerators, contents are viewable without opening the doors
School Cafeterias Case Study


The eight schools in Austin Public School District in Minnesota feed 4,300 children every day.  The district’s high-volume production requirements make reliability and quality essential for the schools’ cafeteria equipment. Aided by a local food service equipment distributor, the district thoroughly researched energy efficient equipment that would satisfy their needs.

Taking advantage of incentives provided their utility, Austin Public Schools ultimately installed new Energy Star qualified and high-efficiency commercial cooking appliances at four of their school sites including:

•    3 Energy Star qualified reach-in refrigerators
•    3 Energy Star qualified reach-in freezers
•    2 Energy Star qualified electric steamers
•    3 Energy Star qualified hot food holding cabinets
•    4 gas convection ovens

This equipment provides the Austin Public School District with annual savings of $3,500. Additionally, these energy efficient appliances are expected to save the district 32,000 kilowatt hours of electricity, 400 therms of natural gas, and 340,000 gallons of water each year.

The new appliances have also resulted in healthier food options. By purchasing new steamers, the district’s high school was able to retire its deep fryer.  Additionally, with the utility bill savings from the new efficient appliances, the school is able to purchase fruits and vegetables that were previously out of its price range.  By installing energy efficient cooking appliances, Austin Public Schools provides higher quality foods to students while also cutting costs and saving energy.


Photo credit: UTILITY refrigerator

This Dean Decathlon HD50 efficient fryer receives a $500 rebate.
This Dean Decathlon HD50 efficient fryer receives a $500 rebate.
Fast Food Restaurants Case Study


As fast food restaurants, Rubio’s, El Pollo Loco, and Carl’s Jr. operate on slim profit margins. With their low-cost menu items, the financial success of these companies depends to a large extent on their ability to reduce operating costs and stretch each dollar of their capital expenditures.

In 2005-2007 each of these companies participated in a Southern California Gas (SCG) gas equipment rebate program, installing energy efficient commercial cooking appliances in kitchens throughout their chains.  The equipment installed includes high-efficiency griddles, fryers, steamers and ovens.

Through SCG’s rebate program, restaurant chains are allowed an annual total of $25,000 in rebates. The program includes free use of SCG’s Food Service Equipment Center, where restaurants can try out their recipes on energy efficient equipment before making their purchases. Rubio’s has received over $3,500 in rebates on their new efficient equipment, El Pollo Loco has received over $11,000 for efficient ovens and fryers, and Carl’s Jr. has received over $45,000 in rebates over three years. Rubio’s Purchasing Manager, Cynthia Campoy, states, “It doesn’t make good business sense to pass [up these rebates].”


Photo Credit: Dean