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Fry Food, Not the Grid

  • Written by Amy Opheim
  • March 29, 2024
Employee handing a man in a car a bag of food through a fast food restaurant window.

Fast food isn’t exactly known for being kind to the environment. But did you know the industry is undergoing a quiet revolution? Quick service restaurants (QSRs) are increasingly embracing energy efficiency innovations that are not only making a positive impact on the climate, but also saving them some serious cash.

QSR locations use up to 10 times more energy per square foot than other commercial buildings, with refrigeration, lighting, and cooling systems drawing the most power. However, among the sizzle of the fryers and hum of refrigerators, many establishments are making key improvements. Along with digital innovations like facial recognition-driven greetings and AI-powered product recommendations, many QSRs are implementing energy innovations to boost natural resource efficiency. For example, photocells reduce unnecessary energy use in outdoor spaces, restrooms, break rooms, and storage areas. Smart fryers, ovens, and grills with sensors and connectivity offer real-time insights into power usage. Demand exhaust control systems automatically adjust fan speeds to match ventilation needs. Heat pumps provide energy-efficient heating or cooling by transferring heat from indoors or outdoors as needed.

With meaningful – and public – climate commitments in place, QSRs are testing some of the most innovative energy-saving initiatives:

Chipotle Embraces Electrification

With a goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 50% by 2030 (over 2019), Chipotle opened four all-electric locations last year and is planning to implement this all-electric design in 100 of the locations opening in 2024. The design includes solar panels, an all-electric kitchen, and heat pumps for heating and cooling, all supported by 100% renewable energy from wind and solar power. But the chain is no stranger to energy efficiency. In 2022 alone, energy management systems saved the company 65,000 MWh of energy – enough to power 6,100 homes for a full year.

Wendy’s Harnesses DERs

Dozens of corporate-owned Wendy’s locations in Florida are benefiting from a community solar program and 35 more in the works over the next two years. The company also opened its first Global Next Gen restaurant, a new design standard for high volume locations, last year, featuring energy-efficient lighting, energy-saving windowpanes, and HVAC, all of which equate to a 10% boost in energy efficiency over its most common model.

Taco Bell Steams Up Service

Taco Bell recently upgraded to energy-efficient appliances and lighting, optimized their HVAC systems, and switched from steam tables to dry electric grill-to-order operations to reduce wasted heat and hot water.

Today, quick service restaurants are signifying a collective industry push toward sustainability. For utilities seeking to support these efforts, partnering with Resource Innovations is the key to unlocking simply delicious energy efficiency solutions.