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Cash for Kitchens: It’s all about saving energy in your favorite eatery!

I had the opportunity to sit on a panel at the ACEEE Hot Water Forum 2017 to share my experience implementing the Cash for Kitchens an audit program that focuses on water conservation for small- to medium-sized restaurants.  The ACEEE Hot Water Forum is a conference that converges on hot water distribution for commercial and residential buildings.  Cash for Kitchens allowed us to help local businesses save water, gas, and electricity through our educational audit process.  The West Basin Municipal Water District started the conservation in their territory of the West Los Angeles region to help the underserved restaurant sector.  When the program launched, California was in a severe drought which made water conservation a huge emphasis in the state.

What made Cash for Kitchens different than other commercial programs is that it focused on water conservation instead of lighting, refrigeration, heating, cooling, and other high energy consuming equipment.  During the audit, our conservation specialist would measure water flow rates throughout the kitchen.  If high flow faucets were identified, the field representative would provide free low flow faucet aerators, pre-rinse spray valves, and low flow restrictors.  The auditors also looked at and identified specific types of equipment that are impacted by water use such as steamers and ice machines.  If applicable, our auditor would refer them to rebates for connectionless steamers and air-cooled ice machines.  In addition to the free giveaways, educational and behavioral posters were provided to provide the staff with various types of conservation tips.  These tips included how to properly thaw meat and to be mindful of water leaks so they are fixed immediately.

When a program has a shoe-string marketing budget it is important to get creative to get the message out to the community.  For Cash for Kitchens, the marketing budget was small, so it was incumbent for our team to network with city representatives, the chamber of commerce, and other associations.  We used this process to obtain a list of restaurants and their contact information. In certain circumstances a city representative sent out email blasts and direct mail to help promote the project.  Fortunately, these efforts did not impact our budget.   Because the free program was beneficial to city businesses, the city helped to generate hype for the program.  Our team also hit the streets and went door-to-door speaking to restaurant managers and owners.

The Cash for Kitchens program reduced water consumption in the restaurant and as a secondary unplanned benefit also reduced gas and electricity: the water-energy nexus.  For example, if low flow water measures were installed, the gas or electric boiler used less hot water, resulting in energy savings.  Another component of Cash for Kitchens was working with the utility jointly whenever possible.  Our scheduler would coordinate with Southern California Gas and Southern California Edison to see if one of their representatives could join us at an appointment.  When this was possible it greatly enhanced the experience for the restaurant because of the additional services provided.  The other utilities would test equipment and, if problems were identified, either fixed them or informed the restaurant owner or manager how to do so.

Soon after a new program is launched, the reality of the implementation plan takes effect, and implementers start to identify hurdles and obstruction.  For this program, these hurdles became apparent during the scheduling process of the program.  Even though we could successfully generate enough buzz to have enough leads to schedule, even with a small budget, the fast-paced restaurant business made it difficult to complete the appointments.  At the early stages of the program there were last minute cancelations due to miscommunications with restaurant staff.  We quickly learned that it was important to make sure we were scheduling appointments during the slow hours of the day.  In addition, reminder calls to ensure that several members of the restaurant staff were aware of our visit were invaluable.  With these simple steps, we eliminated the cancelations and created a profitable program.

As a member of DNV GL’s Program Development and Implementation team in Southern California, it was a great experience to launch such a unique project.  Participating in the Cash for Kitchens implementation was a great experience and I appreciated the opportunity to work with restaurant owners and managers to help them to reduce energy in their facility.   Launching a restaurant-specific program, especially one that addressed water conservation rather than traditional energy efficiency, helped us find a new approach to saving energy overall.

Stanley Mueller is a Project Manager for DNV GL’s contracts with Anaheim Public Utility, Burbank Water & Power, Pasadena Water & Power, West Basin MWD, and Southern California Edison’s residential programs, working from our Anaheim office. He has over 15 years’ experience in project coordination in the construction and energy conservation industries. His current activities include managing budgets, performing residential energy audits, supervising staff, training and developing staff, implementing programs, supporting clients, business development and conducting public outreach (town hall, TV appearances, city council, and community events).

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