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A new Moe’s Southwest Grill is using Vermont’s bone-chilling weather to slash its energy consumption.
The store, located in the Burlington suburb of Williston, Vt., is serving as a test lab for green measures that could be adopted throughout the fast-casual chain. The innovations include an automated “controller” that turns lights on and off according to need, a high-performance ventilation hood that sucks out less heated or air-conditioned ambient air, and an HVAC system that’s coordinated with the hood to avoid energy-gobbling temperature spikes.
All told, the initiatives will save the restaurant $10,000 to $12,000 on energy bills during Year One, with the investment completely paying for itself in about 31 months, according to general manager Ian Pomerville. “We’re looking at an energy savings of about 25 to 30 percent,” he says.
Among the big contributors to that return, he notes, is an unusual refrigeration system that, much to the surprise of franchisees Sucayn and Philip Wood, is locally sourced as well. The restaurant’s walk-in sports conventional components like condensors and exchangers. But if the outside air is colder than the refrigerator’s interior, those elements shut down and outside air is sucked in to chill the storage unit’s contents.
“I can run my cooler with a 65-watt fan,” says Pomerville. “It’s keeping my condensors shut down for months at a time. That’s a huge savings. Plus there’s less wear on the condensors.”
He also speaks enthusiastically of the new store’s automated lighting control.
“We have all LEDs except for a few fluorescents in the kitchen,” he says, explaining that the 4-watt lamps provide the same illumination as 35-watt halogen bulbs.
But a bulb’s energy use falls to zero when an automated system determines the light isn’t needed, either because the ambient light is sufficient or no one’s in that area of the store.
“We have about 150 light bulbs, but only two switches that control about 25 bulbs,” says Pomerville. “The rest are controlled by the management system, which uses a combination of motion and daylight sensors.” The automated lights include ones in the office, kitchen and cooler, where it’s not uncommon in many restaurants for the bulb to stay on all day and night, he adds.
Additional energy savings come from a high-efficiency fryer, “something that’s going all day long in a Moe’s,” and a venting system that expels cooking fumes without pumping out the usual volume of heated or cooled dining room air. That waste burns energy because the replacement air has to be brought to a comfortable temperature again.
“The vent for a restaurant of this size would normally handle about 3,500 cfms,” or cubic feet per minute, says Pomerville. “Our system pulls 2,157 cfms,” without a loss in performance.
Other efficiency measures included the use of spray-on insulation, which “greatly improved our insulation to save heat,” and sunlight-reflecting roof tiles that are expected to keep the restaurant cooler in the summer, says Pomerville.
In addition, the restaurant was built with wood, paints and other surfaces that meet the U.S. Green Building Council’s standards for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification. If certified as expected, the Williston unit would be the first LEED building in the Moe’s system.
“We started off purely from an energy-conservation standpoint, trying to cut our costs. But we thought, ‘If we’re doing all this, maybe we could go for LEED certification,” says Pomerville, who cites Sucayn Wood as the project’s champion.
To gauge what features would be appreciated by consumers, the management team spoke with patrons of their first Moe’s, in nearby Burlington proper.
With “Vermont being such a green state, our customers are very aware of green and LEED,” says Pomerville. “We asked them, ‘What do you think of this?’ They were always saying, ‘Well, that’s good, but what about this?’ It was always, ‘What about this, what about this, what about this?’ They had a lot of great ideas.”
The local utility also offered what Pomerville characterized as valuable guidance and insights. That alliance also entitled the store to “some pretty good rebates,” he adds.
At the same time, the team worked closely with Moe’s home office and the brand’s franchisor, Focus Brands in Atlanta. All wanted the unit to be a green trailblazer for the chain, which is predominantly franchised.
“We were willing to do much of the research and pass this along to the rest of the system,” says Pomerville, who was previously assistant manager of the Woods’ first store. “We needed to put together a prototype that was not only feasible but would make franchisees say, ‘Hey, I should do that.'”
Moe’s has more than 400 locations nationwide.
The Williston unit’s grand opening was held Oct. 15. By that time, Pomerville says, the Vermont fall was already providing enough of a chill to shut down the refrigerator’s condensor.
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