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Electrifying Commercial Kitchens Across Sectors

By Better Buildings Beat Team on Feb 01, 2023

In a recent peer exchange, Better Buildings partners from the higher education, hospitality and the retail, food service, and grocery sectors discussed challenges and solutions to electrifying commercial kitchens to accelerate decarbonization, save energy, and reduce costs.

The event brought together Better Buildings partners and affiliates including University of Michigan, The Wendy’s Company, Towson University, MGM Resorts International, and Pace University. Partners shared key considerations and best practices for reducing energy use and engaging with kitchen staff about electrification plans.

Reducing Energy Use

Across sectors, partners noted that the added electricity demand from fully electrified kitchens may pose a challenge, particularly when retrofitting an existing building. Improved energy efficiency and conservation can help address this by lowering the overall electricity demand. When switching from natural gas to electric, corresponding operational changes are recommended to take advantage of that switch. For example, electric cooking appliances, especially induction-based appliances, require less ventilation than natural-gas-based cooking. The kitchen vents can then be run less frequently and at lower power when changing to electric. Vent speed can be adjusted automatically by installing demand-control ventilation (DCV), based on the amount of smoke or heat detected by installed sensors.

Several partners noted that DCV installation led to significant energy savings – even when coupled with a natural gas cooktop. With DCV, their vent fans often ran just a few hours a day. Another partner in the hospitality sector realized payback periods of just 1-3 years for DCV installations in their hotels. Both partners emphasized this is low-hanging fruit for reducing energy use and saving money.

Kitchen Staff Engagement

Some partners highlighted that chefs and kitchen staff may be hesitant about shifting from natural gas to electric cooking. Hesitation is partly fueled by concern about sacrificing food quality. One partner in the hospitality sector noted their staff was concerned about maintaining the chargrilled flavor when cooking steaks, for example. Electric char stations exist, and induction cooking appliances can cook more quickly and precisely than gas-based cooking. Still, these reservations highlight the importance of engaging kitchen staff when planning to transition to electric kitchen equipment. Early discussions and training can address concerns and ensure a smoother transition to electric kitchens without sacrificing food quality.

Further, some partners subcontract third-party organizations to manage dining operations. Therefore, additional stakeholders must be taken into consideration and included in the planning process. One possible solution some higher education institutions are implementing is a green lease food service agreement towards electrification.

While electrifying commercial kitchens may seem challenging, there are many proven strategies that not only improve energy efficiency but also reduce the kitchen’s carbon footprint. Learn more about these strategies on the Better Buildings Solution Center.