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Off The Shelf #33: Heated Debate
Read time: 3 minutes. Now we're cooking with gas. But for how long?
TL;DR (Too Long, Didn’t Read) Version:
Gas stoves have become a new front in the culture wars
Moving to an induction hob could bring your household emissions down by almost 1%. If the entire UK had induction hobs, it could save 0.001% of global emissions.
Regulation is likely to push us all towards electric at some point
We’re getting our house redone at the moment. As well as the minor stuff like the roof, there have been all sorts of questions about the cooker.
Range or built-in? How big does the oven need to be? How many burners? 90 or 100cm wide? All important questions. But if I’m completely honest, I was never asking the big one.
Gas or electric hob?
I didn’t ask because I didn’t have any intention of leaving a life of cooking with gas behind. I still don’t intend to. I like the control you get with gas, and have never seen that replicated with electric hobs. But I’m happy to have my mind changed here: if you can show me an electric hob which gives the same level of control as a gas burner, get in touch or leave a comment.
Others are less open to changing their minds. In fact, gas stoves recently ignited a new front in the culture wars. Conservative politicians in the US, fearful of a nanny state ban on burners, recently took to twitter in response to a study suggesting that gas stoves cause asthma. Look at this one, from an adult congressman:
This one is my favourite:
To me it has an even better ring to it than ‘Live. Love. Laugh’. I’ll be framing it in the new kitchen when we move back in.
I’m not going to cover the health debate here. But the ridiculous hysteria around cooking appliances presents a nice opportunity to dive into the environmental aspect. What’s better for the planet: gas or electric? I took a look at this article, and did some extremely basic calculations, and this is what I found.
ELECTRIC INDUCTION HOBS DO PRODUCE FEWER EMISSIONS
… and electric hobs in general, including ceramics, are improving all the time. Look at the chart below. Gas hobs produce about 70kg of CO2 or equivalent emissions per year - and this isn’t changing. But ceramic and induction hobs are becoming less carbon intensive, at least in the UK: as the electricity grid continues to move toward renewables and electric hobs themselves become more energy efficient, this trend should continue. But burning gas directly will always produce emissions.
PUTTING THAT INTO CONTEXT
Before we all immediately rush to buy an induction hob, let’s put this into context:
Let’s assume we can save 20kg of emissions per year by moving from gas (70kg) to induction (50kg). That’s a reduction of 28.5%.
Cooking in the UK accounts for 3% of household energy use.
28.5% of 3% = 0.86%.
Therefore: by moving from gas to induction, a household can bring its total annual energy emissions down by almost 1%.
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If we all did this in the UK, what would the impact be globally?
There are 28 million households in the UK.
15% have an induction hob already, leaving 23.8 million yet to switch.
23.8 million households reducing emissions by 20kg per year = a reduction of 476 million kilograms of emissions. That’s 476 thousand tonnes.
The world emits about 51 billion tonnes of emissions per year.
476 thousand as a proportion of 51 billion is 0.0009%.
Therefore: the UK moving from gas to induction hobs could reduce global carbon emissions by about 0.001%.
IN THE FUTURE, WE PROBABLY WON’T HAVE A CHOICE ANYWAY
The UK Committee on Climate Change has recommended that no newly built homes be connected to the gas network from 2025. This is already adopted in countries like the Netherlands, and even some cities in the US have done the same. The direction is clear, even if the timing isn’t, and I’d imagine that the move toward electrification is eventually going to dominate beyond just new builds. Look at what’s happening to cars.
So the gas diehards like Rep. Jim Jordan and I will probably have to get onboard with electric cookers at some point. I’m fine with that, as long as the technology can evolve to offer a product that’s just as responsive and effective as gas.
Here are a couple of easy tips to keep emissions down if you’re not looking at changing your stove just yet:
Simmer, don’t boil: turning the heat down and using less of a flame will still lead to the same outcome
Put the lid on: keep the heat in when boiling your potatoes
What else have I missed? Have you already gone electric? Will you?
Data as of 22 January 2023. Just to keep my senior politician readership out of hot water on Sunday morning TV. Price of milk represented by the average price of comparable 2-pint bottles at 5 major retailers in the United Kingdom (Tesco, Aldi, Sainsbury’s Waitrose and Marks & Spencer). Index is equally weighted and based on online prices. Methodology is purely proprietary and utterly unscientific. For actual price data that might be remotely useful for economic analysis, try the Office for National Statistics.
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