Energy — every bakery needs it to keep the lights on and mixers, ovens and freezers running, but the cost on the bottom line cannot be ignored. Not only does reducing energy usage provide financial savings, but it also can contribute to lessening a bakery’s impact on the environment and give the company a green halo that consumers find attractive.

“From an historical perspective, these are the ‘early days’ of energy reduction,” said Margaret Ann Marsh, director of sustainability, Flowers Foods, Thomasville, GA. “To stay competitive with rising energy costs, it’s essential that we continue to find innovative ways to reduce energy consumption and improve efficiency. Not only does energy reduction lower costs, but it also reduces the environmental impact on our communities.”

With financial and marketing incentives, it makes sense for bakeries to pursue ways to lower their energy consumption, whether that’s through equipment, operational strategies or finding all the hidden places where energy is seeping out of the plant and correcting them.

Some points of waste are obvious, such as excess lighting, the cost of start-up and shutdown, or the immense energy inefficient equipment takes. Others are less so, such as compressed air leaks. By taking a look at these areas of a bakery’s operations, bakers can curb energy waste and the costs associated with them.

Looking for savings

When trying to cut energy consumption of a plant, it’s all in where you look. There are some obvious choices, such as efficient lighting and equipment, but there can be some places where waste is happening that aren’t immediately clear. Finding those is a matter of knowing where to look. Programs such as the Energy Star program can help bakeries quantify lost energy and implement resources to trim losses and measure progress.

One of the most valuable resources to help identify areas to reduce energy costs is a bakery’s staff. “Given their close proximity to the production and distribution process and their hands-on experience, many years of baking experience, employees are often the source of some of the most creative solutions and successful ideas,” Ms. Marsh said of Flowers’ team members.

Baking companies with multiple locations can benefit from the sustainability experiences of its various plants. Larry Marcucci, president and CEO, Alpha Baking Co., Chicago, said the company has been able to adapt and apply sustainability initiatives from one plant to another. “Maybe one plant is using less than the others, and we dig into why, so we try to bring all those ideas that we can to all the plants,” he said.

Bimbo Bakeries USA, Horsham, PA, has made sustainability an integral part of its business model. “Having a global strategy focused on energy and fuel usage reduction, as well as having the correct resources working together is key,” said Ramon Rivera, senior vice-president of operations. “An internal team that is focused on identifying energy reduction initiatives is extremely important.”

Energy-saving strategies can also come from industry vendors; those that specialize in reducing waste can bring lessons from other plants to an installation, as older equipment can be a culprit in high energy costs. This can improve start-ups and shutdowns, which are major energy saps. “We implement new technologies to fine-tune operations and ensure plants have a smooth start-up and shutdown,” Mr. Rivera said. “We also develop new strategies such as alternative options to use less compressed air or replacing old technology for new, more efficient equipment.”

Mr. Marcucci had some advice for how to reduce or eliminate waste once an opportunity for savings has been identified. “First choice is don’t use energy if you don’t have to,” he said. Second, if the bakery needs the energy, negotiate long-term futures contracts with utility providers to lock in the best prices, he suggested. And third, if there is waste that cannot be avoided, find a way to divert it to be used elsewhere in the plant.

Follow the lights

An obvious place where bakeries consume a lot of electricity is the lights. A quick fix to save on electricity, even at home, is to simply turn off the lights when they aren’t necessary. However, that’s not always possible in bakeries that often run 24 hours a day, seven days a week. There are several simple ways bakers can reduce the amount of electricity it takes to light their plants, no matter what their schedule.

Replacing CFL or sodium vapor lights with LED lights provides an easy fix. “There was a time five or 10 years ago when it was pretty expensive to do that, and there were some incentives through government programs, but now people are putting LEDs in their houses,” Mr. Marcucci said. For plants like Alpha that run all day and all night, LEDs trims electricity costs because they last longer than CFL bulbs.

An added bonus, LEDs emit very little heat, while CFL bulbs release about 80% of their energy as heat. A switch to LEDs can lead to more efficient use of air conditioning in the summer too. Alpha Baking noticed this difference in one of its bakeries that used sodium vapor lights, according to Mr. Marcucci. “You don’t have all those lights generating even more heat. LEDs run a lot cooler,” he said. “It also helps in the office areas because the AC isn’t working as hard because you’re not generating the heat from the light bulbs.”

In its bakery in Twin Falls, ID, CLIF Bar & Company, Emeryville, CA, used LED lights exclusively, inside and outside of the plant. The bakery doesn’t rely on just electricity for its lighting, however. The company designed the building to take full advantage of natural light whenever possible in the form of wall windows, skylights and solatubes. The bakery also takes advantage of light harvesting when there is enough natural light and motion sensors to prevent wasted electricity in low-traffic areas.

Northeast Foods Inc., Baltimore, has also taken advantage of light harvesting and the savings it can bring to a bakery. “Light harvesting is looking at the lumens in the facility, and when you’re getting enough light through your skylight, it automatically shuts the lights off or dims them way back,” explained Dennis Colliton, vice-­president of engineering, Northeast Foods.

In one of its bakeries, Flowers Foods combined LEDs with built-in occupancy sensors and individually adjustable light levels and saw energy savings of almost 70%, according to Ms. Marsh. With a well-rounded lighting strategy that takes into account natural light, plant traffic and smart purchases, bakers can take advantage of savings on that electric bill.

Blowing hot air

Less obvious but just as pervasive — and essential — throughout the bakery involves the use of compressed air. It’s often overlooked but can be a major contributor to energy waste. “Compressed air usage is undoubtedly the biggest misused energy consumer in any bakery,” Mr. Colliton said. “That’s where the biggest bang can be found.”

Compressed air is used widely throughout a bakery, such as for opening bags before they are filled with product. Air compressors can get product out of pans and can even be used in the makeup area to remove excess flour from the product. These leave room for wasted energy but opportunities for savings. “Literally almost every plant has compressed air systems, and there is a lot of waste that people don’t think about in those areas,” Mr. Marcucci said. “People run more psi than they really need to, and a lot of people don’t realize how many leaks in their air system can really cause them to use quite a bit of horsepower to keep the compressed air system charged.”

CLIF Bar’s Twin Falls plant uses variable-speed air compressors, which help manage lulls in production without wasting energy.

Leaks can be the main culprit when it comes to energy waste. Compressed air leaks can waste up to 20 or 30% of a compressor’s output, Ms. Marsh explained. The good news, however, is that they are relatively easy and inexpensive to repair. Flowers Foods’ first initiative of its Smart Saves program reduced compressed air leaks. “Our engineering team performed compressed air surveys at bakeries to identify leaks wasting energy,” she said. This continues annually, with the company conducting air-leak audits to confirm that each bakery has a monitor-and-repair program. These savings made such an impact in one plant that the local utility company took notice.

“Recently, one of our bakeries had a win-win result when it saw significant savings from efficiency improvements to an air compressor system and leak repair,” 
Ms. Marsh said. “We also were awarded an incentive check from their utility provider for work on these projects.”

Bakers can also look for places where compressed air is being used but may not be necessary. In some areas, specifically dough makeup, Northeast Foods has replaced compressed air with centrifugal blowers. “We use direct-drive blowers rather than compressed air to remove the flour from dough pieces,” Mr. Colliton said. “That uses a lot less energy.”

When compressed air cannot be replaced, however, some of the waste can be put to good use. Air compressors generate a lot of hot air. Instead of losing that hot air to the atmosphere, it can be redirected back into the plant to heat water or even heat parts of the bakery that get cold in the winter. “Otherwise you’re just heating the neighborhood,” Mr. Marcucci said. Alpha Baking has put discharges in its air compresses to reuse that waste heat in the winter. This redirection of waste heat can also be applied to the biggest generator of heat in a bakery — the oven.