McDonald’s Aims for Net Zero Energy

Energy efficiency and photovoltaics can reduce McDonald’s restaurants’ energy costs by 15%, reveals study.
Published: Mon 30 Mar 2015

With the help of non-profit research and educational foundation, Rocky Mountain Institute, McDonald's Corporation is looking into the viability of developing net zero energy (NZE) fast food restaurants. Net zero energy means that in a year, an energy efficient building and the site on which it is located generates as much renewable energy as it consumes.

Net zero energy concept creates opportunities for restaurants

According to Roy Buchert, global energy director at McDonald's, the firm is working with its suppliers and the study team to improve the energy 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," says Buchert. “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."

While the results of the study, Net Zero Energy Building Analysis For McDonald’s USA, are meant to benefit McDonald's restaurants globally, the study focused on three locations in Chicago, Orlando and Washington, D.C.

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. 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. "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 reveals that at all three locations, net zero energy is possible on a stand-alone traditional McDonald's site, without any changes to the current menu or service delivery.

Energy efficiency reducing restaurants’ costs

Attaining net zero begins with up to a 60% improvement in energy efficiency versus an already efficient US prototype restaurant design from 2013 while remaining energy needs could be met on the existing site area with a 300kW photovoltaic system primarily installed over the building and parking spaces.

Energy efficiency, combined with sufficient solar photovoltaics, can significantly reduce energy costs to about 5 to 15% of a US restaurant's current average energy cost, according to the report.

The majority of the energy efficiency strategies identified in the study could potentially be cost effectively integrated into McDonald's restaurants across the globe as they undergo renovations in the future.

McDonald's plans to prioritize the findings over time to map alongside their business objectives, and to explore recommended energy efficiency strategies, including research and development to improve kitchen equipment efficiencies in order to reduce overall net zero energy costs, as well as possibly design and build a pilot net zero energy restaurant to act as a learning lab to test and validate new technologies.

McDonald's also plans to locate vendors to design, deliver, and maintain large solar installations on standard McDonald's sites, while looking for incentives and potential financing.

Further reading

Duke-Net Zero Energy Building Analysis For McDonald’s USA, LLC [pdf]