Solar Power for the Commercial Kitchen
While the cost of fossil fuels keeps growing, alternative energy technologies, like solar power, are becoming more affordable. "Solar kitchens" around the world already run entirely off solar power, including one in India that can produce up to 38,500 meals a day using solar energy alone. Every year, the cost of solar panels goes down, making them a potentially smart investment for food service establishments.
- Sunlight is free. After the initial investment, solar panels involve little to no operation or maintenance costs.
- Solar panels last. Your solar panels could very easily outlast your own lifespan. There is also a huge market for used panels, so their value depreciates slowly.
- It makes you look good. Customers will see the solar panels on your rooftop and know that you are an environmentally responsible business. A rooftop solar array is very likely to attract new customers.
- Clean is always better. There is no source of energy cleaner than solar power.
The cost-effectiveness of solar power depends on many factors. The switch to solar energy has a much longer payback period than most other kinds of changes you can make. If you are hoping for financial gain, there are a few things to consider before you invest in solar panels.
- Does my state offer incentives? The federal government offers a 30% tax credit for solar equipment, and now many states also offer tax credits or utility rebates. Depending on your local government’s incentives, rebates could provide a much quicker return on investment.
- Do I get enough sun? First you need a roof exposed to the sun. You should also consider the amount of full sun hours you receive on average. For example, a restaurant in Phoenix can make more use of their solar panels than one in Seattle. The stronger the solar radiation in your area, the more potential for efficient collection of sun power.
- How much power do I need? If you are considering switching to solar energy because your utility bills are too high, you should first take every other possible step to save energy. Solar panel technology is expensive. After minimizing your energy consumption, you can determine exactly how many solar panels you need and reduce the cost of a solar array.
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- What will customers think? If the nearby population is environmentally conscious, your solar panels could attract a significant amount of new business. Factors like this should always be considered when predicting a return on investment.
Depending on your energy needs and where you live, solar power could offer a short enough payback period to make it worth your while. Remember, as the cost of other forms of energy rises, payback periods shorten.
If the initial cost of a solar array seems daunting, consider investing in a solar hot water heater. Traditional solar panels consist of “photovoltaic” cells that convert sunlight into electricity. The conversion process requires advanced technology that drives up costs. Solar hot water heaters use thermal collectors to heat the water without having to convert that heat to electricity. The simplest solar hot water heater would be a bucket of water warming in the sun. As long as you have water that needs heating, take advantage of the free sunlight.
Get a batch water heater. Since the solar collectors are integrated into the storage tank, batch water heaters are extremely simple and efficient. They are very cost-effective, especially if you live in a moderate, sunny climate. However, in colder climates they can be problematic, since the tank must be drained during winter to prevent freezing.
Try a thermosiphon water heater. Thermosiphons heat by circulating water (direct) or antifreeze (indirect) through the solar collectors without using a conventional, energy-consuming pump. While they are more expensive than direct thermosiphons, an indirect thermosiphon can be used in cold climates, since cold anti-freeze will not damage the system.
More from Going Green...
- Why Go Green in the Commercial Kitchen?
- Going Green in Your Commercial Kitchen: First Steps
- Investing in Green Equipment for Your Commercial Kitchen
- Greenwashing: Not All Things Green are Gold
- Training Your Commercial Kitchen Staff to Go Green
- Green Glossary
- Seals and Certifications in the Commercial Kitchen
- Top 10 Energy-Saving Tips for the Commercial Kitchen
- Energy Assessments for the Commercial Kitchen
- Energy-Efficient Hoods in the Commercial Kitchen
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