McDonald’s Study Explores Idea of a Net Zero Energy Quick Service Restaurant

January 30, 2015–A study prepared by Rocky Mountain Institute, Fisher Nickel, Inc. and New Buildings Institute examines the technical and financial feasibility of achieving new net zero energy restaurants in three cities: Chicago, Orlando and Washington, D.C.

Through a recently completed study, McDonald’s Corporation seeks to better understand whether it would be feasible to develop a net zero energy[i] (NZE) quick service restaurant.  Exploring net zero energy continues McDonald’s tradition of energy efficiency efforts, and helps to prepare McDonald’s for future energy codes.  The study’s findings, including research, technical analyses, and detailed recommendations, form a roadmap for McDonald’s to pursue future net zero energy restaurants, as well as select energy efficiency solutions for existing restaurants.

“Our Global Energy Leadership Board sees net zero energy as an opportunity for McDonald’s as we work to advance the energy performance of the restaurants and proactively pursue opportunities for integrating emerging technologies,” said Roy Buchert, Global Energy Director at McDonald’s.  “We are working with the study team and our suppliers to improve the efficiency of the restaurants.  This net zero energy concept could change our approach from incremental improvements to substantial advances in energy efficiency and renewable energy integration where it makes sense.”

While this study is intended to benefit restaurants globally, three potential U.S. locations were assessed in the study – Chicago, Orlando, and Washington D.C.  For each location, multiple scenarios were examined to determine the most practical and cost-effective pathway to net zero energy. This high-level analysis, completed together with McDonald’s internal experts and equipment suppliers, generated a set of conceptual energy conservation strategies in addition to potential savings and cost estimates for prioritization.  Further work will be required to generate detailed designs and accurate costs for the high priority solutions.  While all aspects of the site and building were included in the study, emphasis was placed on kitchen and HVAC equipment, which represent the predominant energy use in a typical restaurant.

“The study demonstrates that for high energy intensity building types, such as restaurants, every single piece of energy-using equipment must be examined as part of a system. There’s plentiful opportunity to optimize and reduce energy use without compromising the consistency and quality of the end products,” said Stephen Doig of Rocky Mountain Institute, which led the study.  To get to net zero energy, we reviewed the real-time energy use of equipment and developed system synergies to dramatically improve energy efficiency in kitchen equipment and HVAC systems.”

The study found that at all three locations, net zero energy is possible on a stand-alone traditional McDonald’s site, without any reductions to the menu or service.

  • Reaching net zero begins with up to a 60 percent improvement in energy efficiency versus an already-efficient U.S. prototype restaurant design from 2013.
  • Remaining energy needs could be met on the existing site area, with a 300 kW photovoltaic system primarily installed over the building and parking spaces.
  • Energy efficiency combined with sufficient solar photovoltaics could significantly reduce energy costs to about only 5 to 15 percent of a U.S. restaurant’s current average energy cost.
  • The additional capital cost to achieve a net zero energy restaurant in the U.S. was mainly associated with the integration of on-site photovoltaic systems.

“Some McDonald’s suppliers worked closely with the study team to explore the potential for their equipment to contribute to energy savings in the net zero prototype,” said Don Fisher cofounder of Fisher-Nickel, Inc.  “The huge challenge is reducing or eliminating standby energy consumption during periods when appliances are not cooking food.”

“An important finding of the study is that a majority of the energy efficiency strategies identified potentially could be cost effectively integrated into McDonald’s restaurants across the globe as they are renovated in the future,” said Ralph DiNola, CEO of New Buildings Institute.

McDonald’s plans to prioritize the findings over time to map alongside their business objectives, and have identified the following next steps:

  • Explore recommended energy efficiency strategies, including research and development to improve kitchen equipment efficiencies in order to reduce overall NZE costs.
  • Potentially design and build a pilot NZE restaurant in the future to act as a “learning lab” to test and validate new technologies.
  • Find one or more vendors to design, deliver, and maintain large solar installations on standard McDonald’s sites, while securing incentives and potential financing.
  • Engage with the restaurant industry and suppliers as appropriate to help drive improvements going-forward.

This announcement has been provided by Rocky Mountain Institute. For more information contact: [email protected]

About Rocky Mountain Institute
Since 1982, Rocky Mountain Institute has advanced market-based solutions that transform global energy use to create a clean, prosperous and secure future. An independent, nonprofit think-and-do tank, RMI engages with businesses, communities and institutions to accelerate and scale replicable solutions that drive the cost-effective shift from fossil fuels to efficiency and renewables.

About Fisher Nickel, Inc.
Fisher Nickel, Inc. is a leader in energy research and sustainability for the commercial foodservice industry, providing integrated solutions through new technologies, improved equipment design and operational innovation. Fisher-Nickel, Inc. operates the PG&E Food Service Technology Center (FSTC) in San Ramon, California. Since its inception in 1986, the FSTC has developed over 40 Standard Test Methods for evaluating commercial kitchen appliance and system performance. Along with a library of information on equipment performance, the FSTC provides expertise in commercial kitchen ventilation, water heating, refrigeration and building energy efficiency.

About New Buildings Institute
Established in 1997, New Buildings Institute (NBI) has been a driving force in advancing energy efficiency research, practices and code stringency.  Most notably, the 2012 International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) was based largely on NBI’s Core Performance Guide–a prescriptive approach to high performance commercial buildings. The organization also advocates for measuring building energy performance in occupancy rather than relying on modeled predictions to assess efficiency levels.  NBI has become a clearinghouse on zero-net energy policies and practices.

[i] Net zero energy means that in a year, an energy efficient building (including the site) produces as much renewable energy as is consumed on-site.