I took the Sierra Club’s quiz on “green cooking” the other day and was rather confused by the results regarding the efficiency of gas vs. electric stoves vs. microwaves for heating water. I actually think they had mis-keyed the quiz the first time I saw it; either that or it somehow magically makes more sense today.
So the question: Which is the most energy-efficient way to cook food? The answer is rather long, and the whole thing may be derailed by remembering that cooking accounts for only about 4% of the average fuel usage in a home. It might not be worth the effort to quibble about the small differences in efficiency – especially if your windows are drafty, your attic uninsulated, and your fireplace sucking heat right out of your living room.
- Electric induction (very pricey; you’ve probably never seen one of these around)
- Electric stoves with sealed ceramic cooktops (halogen, for preference)
- Electric coil cooktops (the most common kind)
- Gas stove
However, if you’re only boiling one cup of water or heating one serving of food, the microwave shoots to the top of the list. (Who really *cooks* in a microwave, anyway?)
Microwaves and crock pots are also much more efficient than either a gas or electric oven. So that helps me answer the question, “If I’m going to stew something all day, should I put the Dutch oven in the oven, or boil it on the stove or crock pot?” but again…I’m not making brownies in the microwave.
Additional things to factor in:
- You will never recoup your investment in a new stove, let alone new wiring or gas lines, with current prices of electricity and natural gas.
- However, prices are going up.
- Natural gas is a fairly clean-burning fuel; if your electricity comes from coal, a gas stove is cleaner.
- If your electricity comes from natural gas (and much of it does), I wonder if these “efficiency” ratings actually take into account the fact that you burn 3 units of natural gas to get one unit of electricity, then get n% of that heat back out of the electricity to put into your food. On a gas stove, you just get y% of the heat out of 1 unit of gas to heat your food.
- HOW you cook probably makes more of a difference than the type of range you use. Cover pots when you cook; bake more than one thing at a time in the oven; cook larger batches and microwave the leftovers.
I will also make a Colin Powell-esque distinction: the “correct” answer to the green cooking question is as above. But the right answer is, “neither of these are terribly green” when you compare to something like a solar oven.
I guess this doesn’t make my personal list of Big Things I Can Do To Save The Environment – it’s more in the small-to-medium stuff category. If I had $500 to spend, I wouldn’t replace a functional stove. I’d replace an old-but-functional fridge or freezer, or insulation, or a clothes-drying rack.