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Gourmet Baker gets a taste of Power Smart incentives

Chris Helgason, maintenance manager for Gourmet Baker, Burnaby.

Free energy study leads to ideas on how to make significant savings

When 100% of your product is delivered frozen, energy costs can make a big impact on the bottom line. That's why Power Smart incentives were an easy sell to Gourmet Baker in Burnaby.

"Once it was brought to my attention that there was money available to do upgrades within our facility, it was something we jumped on," says Chris Helgason, Gourmet Baker's maintenance manager. "I've always known there were things we could do, but to actually have BC Hydro support you and give you funds for it, it's great."

Owned by Pineridge Bakery, Gourmet Baker has two plants in Burnaby (Laurel and Ingleton) totaling 65,000 square feet. Together they turn out strudels, Danishes, puff pastries, croissants, cinnamon buns, and cakes, predominantly for wholesalers, supermarkets, and restaurants across Canada and the U.S.

As a B.C.-based food processor using more than $50,000 in electricity per year, Gourmet Baker was eligible for the free Energy Manager program provided by BC Hydro through the BC Food Processors Association. That gave the company an energy study with recommendations about the best places to focus energy efficiency projects.

From there, it was a matter of implementation. Gourmet Baker has undertaken three projects yielding an impressive 643,000 kWh of electricity savings per year.

Upgrades to high-efficiency lighting create a happier, lighter, and better work environment.

Lighting, VFDs and compressors

"With our new lighting, the difference is amazing," says Helgason, referring to upgrades that replaced older T12 fluorescent lights with high efficiency F32 T8 tubes. "It makes everyone happier. It's lighter and it's a better work environment, for sure."

Next was the main spiral freezer.

"It's made up of five different evaporators that have three fans each, and all the fans were basically just running at full power all the time," says Helgason.

The new system added variable speed controllers. "Now we can automatically shut down and control the fan speed depending on the load needed," he says.

At the Laurel plant, the whole engine room was replaced. "Our old system was so inefficient that we had to run it constantly," says Helgason.

The project replaced six 65 horsepower compressors that ran 24 hours a day, six days a week, with one 250 horsepower screw compressor on a variable frequency drive (VFD).

"Before, every Sunday, after we warmed and cleaned the freezer, it would take a full day to cool down back to the proper temperature," says Helgason. "Now, it takes about an hour, so we just start at 7 o'clock on Monday morning and by the time production is ready, the freezer is ready to go."

The unit is automated so it shuts down by itself when it doesn't sense product in the freezer, and the project has made a significant cut in maintenance costs. "Before, we were replacing compressors on a monthly basis," Helgason says.

Finally, the addition of an economizer option on the compressor (uses pre-existing liquid refrigerant) helped slashed energy use.

"It's basically a heat exchanger that sub cools the refrigerant, allowing for a lower BHP requirement for the same refrigeration capacity," explains Helgason. "Then there's also thermal siphon oil cooling, basically pre-cooling the oil before it comes back, as well."

The economizer alone is saving the company 365,000 kWh of energy per year.

The new screw compressor with the variable frequency drive, economizer and thermal siphon oil cooling.

Quality control and customer satisfaction

With funding from BC Hydro project incentives, payback times for the upgrades made in the lighting and compressor project were less than one year. But Helgason says there were other benefits to upgrading the equipment, including improved quality control.

"The technology nowadays is unbelievable," he says. "While doing the compressor project, we found out the freezer was running too cold for certain products; we were killing our yeast. Now we're actually shutting three or four evaporators off so we're running the compressor at about 10% to freeze our product instead of 100%."

Helgason says improving the company's environmental performance is important for Gourmet Baker's customers, too. "We show them that we're very sustainable and that we're trying to achieve that."

With an energy study in place and several projects completed, Helgason has his eye on next steps, including variable speed drives for the air system, and pressure controls for the washdown system.

Once you begin on energy efficiency, he says, you see potential savings everywhere: "It opens your mind to what's possible."