Pop Quiz: Are Gas Stoves or Electric Stoves Better?
Need a new kitchen stove? Is it a toss-up between a gas stove or an electric stove? Want to limit your impact on the environment when cooking?
Then this short comparison will give you all the ammunition you need to make an informed decision.
But, before we begin, a bit of housekeeping.
With respect to the following article, the term stove will be used in reference to the cooking appliance, not a heating stove. However, many of the issues raised will also apply to electrical versus combustion-based heating systems (with the exception of any reference to running costs).
How efficient is a gas stove?
Gas stoves, especially modern versions, are actually pretty efficient — all things considered. But a lot does depend on the age, make, and model of the stove in question.
That being said, gas kitchen stoves, according to some research, are generally about 40% efficient with regards to converting natural gas to useable heat. This is not necessarily a design fault with the technology, but is more to do with the inherent limitations of burning natural gas for heat.
This doesn't sound very efficient, especially when compared to electric stoves, but that doesn't mean they are necessarily a worse option. The technology's efficiency is not the only consideration when choosing to install, use, or continue to use one.
For example, gas stoves offer some great benefits over other forms of heating.
They provide near-instant heat and can be used for some applications that aren't available with electric cookers — like charring food directly on the burner. Gas stoves also offer far greater versatility over other forms of kitchen appliances for grilling, searing, and simmering.
Many also consider gas stoves the easier option to clean and maintain over time.
Their near-instant heat generation, and response times when turning them up or down are also very useful for cooks. So much so, in fact, that the vast majority of professional chefs prefer using them.
Modern gas stoves with electrical ignitions use far less natural gas over the same period of time as those with permanent pilot lights, for obvious reasons. In fact, some investigations have found that electric ignition stoves tend to save somewhere in the order of 40% on your natural gas bills.
With regards to cost efficiency, gas stoves tend to be the cheaper option too. This is because, in most places around the world, gas is generally much cheaper than electricity.
How much power does an electric range use?
The amount of electricity consumed by an electric range depends on its size, make, and model. Smaller units will tend to start at about 1kW, while larger units may be in excess of 3kW.
However, in most cases, this is the maximum rating for the appliance — which is rarely used in practice. As a ballpark figure, in typical domestic use (roughly 2 hours) of a 1.5kW stove, will consume about 3 kWh a day. With a conservative estimate of $0.1 per kWh, that would be around 30 cents a day.
But, how efficient are they?
The efficiency of electrical stoves does depend on the type of electrical stove you are talking about. However, as a general rule, electric stoves, by their very nature and at the point of use, are far more efficient than gas stoves.
Induction type stoves tend to have efficiencies in the range of 84% while more traditional heating coil types tend to come in at around 74%. Part of the improved efficiency of electric stoves is the fact that they heat up pans through direct contact.
So long as there is good contact between the cookware and the hob, little energy is lost to the surrounding air, as is the case in gas stoves. For older coil-type electric stoves, this is also one of their serious handicaps, as they work best when properly cleaned and correct pan sizes are used.
If not, a lot of energy can be wasted through the inefficiency in heat transfer.
Induction stoves, in case you are not aware, provide heat through the use of magnetic induction, as oppose to thermal conduction, in the case of flames or electrical heating elements. AC current is used to create an electromagnetic field that excites the ferromagnetic molecules within pots and pans, resulting in them heating up.
In this sense, it is not the stove that is the heat source, but rather the pot or pan on top of it. For this reason, induction stoves are also one of the safest, as the cooking surface remains cool. And because they only heat the pan, not the air, they are very efficient — and keep the kitchen cooler.
Induction stoves are widely considered to be the most energy-efficient means of heating, and some also offer comparable heating-up times to gas, as well as controllability. And, being completely flat, they are very easy to clean.
With regards to the actual cooking of foods, some induction stoves also appear to be faster at heating liquids than gas stoves. Some practical experiments have shown that heating the same volume of water can be achieved 30% quicker (5.8 seconds compared to 8.3 seconds).
However, it is important to note that induction stoves will only work with stainless steel, cast iron, or carbon steel pots and pans. Some ceramic-coated metal cookware can also be used. Non-ferrous cookware can be used but tends to require some form of bridging element like a ferrous interface disk.
Induction stoves also tend to have a relatively steep learning curve to use effectively. Most cooks will need to adapt their habits when using them. For example, you don't need to wait a long time for a pan of oil to warm while you chop your onions. Usually, the pan will be hot enough to cook before you have even peeled the onion.
Induction stoves, depending on the make and model, tend to also automatically shut off when a pan is removed from the hob. Moving pans around on the stovetop surface can also run the risk of damaging the class-ceramic surface.
Induction stoves tend to be pretty expensive compared to other alternatives. While prices are dropping over time, gas stoves are generally the preferred choice from a purely financial standpoint.
Which is more efficient and cheaper to run, a gas stove or an electric range?
When it comes to cost, natural gas stoves are usually the cheaper option. However, if you don't spend a lot of time cooking, financial savings will likely be negligible.
Another consideration is the efficient and correct use of either technology. For example, gas is inherently more intuitive to use compared to electric stoves. A bigger flame equals more heat, this is less obvious in electric stoves — especially heating coil-type ones.
Inefficient, or incorrect use, of these devices, will result in wasted energy. Especially if any kind of stove is left running by mistake. It is less obvious to notice, for example, an induction hob left running when compared to a gas stove or heating element electric hob.
For this reason, many modern induction stoves come with precision temperature and time controls that can automatically turn them off.
As previously mentioned, poor maintenance of electric stoves, and inappropriately sized pans, will dramatically decrease their efficiency. Coil-type stoves can also be pretty unresponsive, wasting a fair bit of energy as they heat up and cool down.
For best results, pots and pans should have nice flat bottoms.
Efficiency and cost aside, there are some other things to consider when comparing the two. Gas stoves, by their very nature, churn out more air pollutants than electric stoves.
The act of combustion can release carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, formaldehyde, and other particulate matter that can seriously damage your health over the long term. These pollutants can present a real problem for anyone with asthma, emphysema, or respiratory illness, among other health issues.
For this reason, it is always recommended to fit, and use, extractor hoods when cooking.
A special note on indoor air quality and electric stoves too. If you have a self-cleaning function on the stove, these have also been shown to produce a lot of indoor air pollution. The same is true for self-cleaning gas stoves and ovens too. Self-cleaning also tends to consume large amounts of energy which is not being used for actual "cooking work," so bear this in mind.
Are gas or electric cookers betters for the environment?
So, which is better for the environment?
Since gas stoves use natural gas for fuel, they are inherently worse for the environment than electric stoves, right? Think again.
The source of electricity is of critical importance when comparing gas or electric stoves. Grid-supplied electricity in many countries around the world is primarily generated by also burning fossil fuels. In fact, in many circumstances, the fuel of choice is coal.
In places like the United States, coal-fired power stations are still a major source of electricity generation. In 2020, for example, coal was used to produce 0.774 million GWh, putting it in third place behind natural gas (1.617 million GWh) and nuclear power (0.79 million GWh).
So, in the U.S. as a whole, even if you are cooking with electricity, you are likely still actually cooking with gas in a way. In fact, you could argue that electrical stoves, albeit more efficient in their conversion of electricity to useable energy in your kitchen, have already lost a large proportion of their energy efficiency (if the electricity is coal-derived) before even turning them on.
The added inefficiencies of the stove itself, such as the time it takes electric stoves to heat up and cool down, further reduce its overall efficiency. Grid-supplied electricity also has inherent efficiency losses from its distribution over long distances.
However, things are changing rapidly, with ever more renewable power generation solutions being added to the electrical grid. Especially with the potential for domestic-scale nuclear reactors over the horizon.
This is especially true if your electric cooker is directly supplied by renewable power sources generated in your home.
However, gas stoves can also, in theory, use their own forms of renewable, sustainable fuel sources. Technology like anaerobic digesters can be used to produce methane gas from waste food.
Called bio-digesters, these devices use bacteria to break down organic matter (like fallen leaves, cut grass, food waste, etc) to produce usable methane gas. The amount they produce depends on the size of the unit, but a modest-sized bio-digester should be able to produce enough gas for daily cooking.
Many also have another useful byproduct too — rich organic manure. Great if you also happen to grow your own vegetables.
When retrofitted to an existing gas cooker, the methane gas produced by the digester can be used directly for cooking. This not only saves the build-up of methane gas in the atmosphere from dumping waste food but also reduces the use of fossil fuels.
Not to mention saving you a pretty penny!
However, you may not have to choose between the two at all. Why not get the best of both worlds?
Some companies, like Bosch, actually produce dual-fuel hobs. But, for those who really do want to reduce their impact on the environment, this might not be the best solution.
This is where devices like combined heat and power (CHP) systems can help you benefit from the low costs of gas while benefiting from the increased efficiencies of electric stoves in your kitchen. CHP systems, being decentralized, allow you to have your own mini gas power station in your home. This not only offers great cost savings but is widely considered to be an important "green" technological option.
However, everything we've discussed so far might be a case of splitting hairs. If you are really worried about your environmental impact when cooking, choosing between natural gas or electricity is a little like "missing the wood for the trees." What you eat is by far more important than how you cook it — when considering the environment.
Why? One word — meat.
If you love meat (and why not, it is delicious), your dietary choice has a far larger impact on the environment than whether you choose to cook it by burning fossil fuels or from grid-supplied, even renewable connected, electricity.
Meat tends to require huge amounts of investment in resources and energy to produce. Estimates do vary widely, but meat takes considerably more energy to produce the same amount of calories than many of its vegetable counterparts.
So, if you want to help the environment, you would be better substituting meat more frequently with vegetables such as legumes. This will have a much larger impact than fixating on the relatively small differences between gas and electrical stoves.
But, back the matter at hand. Are gas or electric stoves better? The answer depends on your metrics. With regards to cost, it is likely that natural gas-powered stoves will be cheaper over their lifetime.
With regards to energy-to-heat conversion efficiency, electric stoves are the best at the point of use, with induction stoves leagues ahead.
From a safety point of view, electrical induction stoves are hands-down the safer option. From improved indoor air quality to the reduced chances of fire or explosions, electric stoves are far safer than their gas alternatives.
When it comes to the environment, and taking a holistic view, at the moment they are probably about comparable given the current energy mix of various countries. This will change, however, as more renewables are added to the mix. Once energy is generated entirely from renewable sources, electricity will be more sustainable.
If you run your electric stove from your own renewable systems, you can consider your stove to be environmentally friendly. Although, this ignores the environmental impact of building renewable technologies like photovoltaic panels. But that is beyond the scope of this article.
It bears repeating that your diet will have a larger impact on the environment than how you cook it. If, for example, you are vegetarian cooking using a gas stove, your environmental impact will be considerably less than a meat-eater using an induction stove.
"Food for thought," to borrow a phrase.
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