Green cookware and organic, locally grown food are just two ways to make your kitchen eco-friendly. What you cook your food with also matters though. There are pros and cons to cooking on electric, gas, and induction, but one is the standout winner for the most energy efficient stovetop.
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It’s normal to have a clear preference for gas, electric, or induction when buying a new cooktop. Often, though, this is based on old habits and what feels familiar.
If you’re a conscientious consumer, you might be ready to stir things up in the kitchen and switch to a more climate friendly cooktop.
Consumers want green home appliances, both for air quality and energy efficiency reasons. We broke down the pros and cons of three popular types of cooktops: gas, electric, and induction, to determine once and for all which is the best option for an eco-friendly kitchen.
Often, this is based more on familiarity than on what is energy efficient and healthy.
Which type of stovetop is the most energy-efficient and healthy? Below, we look at the energy efficiency of the three main types of cooktops:
Some cooktops have a mixture of electric, induction, and gas burners, but these are rare.
In contrast, a range can have either a single fuel source for both the cooktop and the oven or a dual fuel source. So, for example, your appliance might have a gas stovetop and electric oven or a gas oven and induction cooktop.
The energy efficiency of gas, electric, and induction cooktops
Let’s not bury the lede: Research clearly shows that induction cooktops are more energy efficient than other cooking methods.
- Gas cooktops are about 40 percent efficient
- Electric-coil and standard smooth-top electric cooktops are about 74 percent efficient
- Induction cooktops are 84 percent efficient.
Induction cooktops also heat food or liquids faster compared to gas and electric.
In one experiment, an induction stovetop could boil water in just 5.8 seconds, versus 8.3 seconds with a gas stove.
Put another way, when cooking with gas, about 60 percent of the energy is wasted, compared to just 16 percent with induction and 26 percent with smooth electric cooktops.
Energy efficiency is calculated as:
Total energy input minus waste energy divided by energy output
With gas stoves, you lose a lot of energy to the surrounding air. With electric smoothtops or exposed coils, some energy is lost because heat has to transmit from the coils to the pan. This is not the case with induction, where energy transfers directly from the electromagnetic elements to the ferrous metal in pots and pans, with no intermediary where losses can occur.
If you’re cooking with a gas or electric cooktop and use a burner size that’s larger than your pot or pan, you’re also wasting energy heating what doesn’t need heating. With induction, the elements match the pan size and thus reduce energy waste.
What if your induction stove is powered by a coal-burning power plant?
Ah, the perennial question, and one I get a lot in the comments and via email.
Is an induction stove still energy efficient if it runs on electricity generated at a coal-fired power plant?
The short answer is: Yes, probably.
The longer answer is… it’s complicated.
There’s no simple equation to work out the overall efficiency of a gas-power-plant-powered electric induction cooktop.
Instead, what we have are average efficiencies for power plants, estimated loss of energy through transmission, and efficiency of the cooktops themselves.
Sure, it’s not as good as powering your induction stove using clean, green electricity sources such as wind, microhydro, or solar, but it’s still better than burning fossil fuels directly to cook your food. And induction is still better than electric cooktops that run on the same electrical grid.
Good old math, physics, and data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration can help us a bit here.
Most electricity in the U.S. is still generated by burning natural gas. Thankfully, while coal-fired electricity generation was the largest source of electricity generation in the U.S. in 2015 (at 1.352 million GWh), by 2020 coal had dropped to third place (0.774 million GWh).
Natural gas powers most power stations (1.617 million GWh), with nuclear generation in second place (0.790 million GWh). Renewables such as solar and wind are increasing their market share, but slowly.
Running the numbers
Modern combined cycle natural gas power plants can be up to 60 percent efficient. If you combine this with the 84 percent efficiency of induction and factor in a 5 percent energy loss through delivery, you have an overall efficiency level of around 47.9 percent. (0.84 x 60 x .95.) This is still better than the 40 percent efficiency of gas stoves.
Even if we assume the power plant is only 50 percent efficient at generating electricity from natural gas, we still have an overall efficiency of 39.9 percent. And given the other downsides of gas cooktops, I don’t think the potentially 0.1 percent loss of efficiency is worth ditching induction for gas.
What about an electric cooktop? Even this remains more energy efficient overall compared to burning gas directly. Using the same math, an electric cooktop works out to around 42.2 percent efficient (0.74 x 60 x .95). With a less efficient power plant, it is just 35.15 percent efficient overall though.
Thanks to the efficiency of energy transfer with induction cooking, you use less energy for the same result compared to burning gas directly on a gas cooktop. With gas cooking, you waste a lot of energy heating the air around the pan. With induction, all the energy goes into the pan itself.
How to make induction cooking even more energy efficient
What if you have a choice of electricity provider and you know the source of the energy? The EIA data shows that to power an electric or induction cooktop, it is marginally better to burn natural gas versus coal (in terms of carbon dioxide emissions).
If you generate your own solar power, induction cooking becomes, in essence, emissions-free. Induction cooking is also usually better for indoor air quality because cooking requires less heat overall meaning fewer emissions of every kind.
Induction is better for overall carbon dioxide emissions
In the water boiling experiment I mentioned above, natural gas released 1.16 pounds of CO2 to boil the water in 8.3 seconds. The induction stove, powered by the electrical grid, was responsible for just 0.29 pounds of CO2 and boiled the water in just 5.8 seconds.
Propane is the worst type of cooking fuel for carbon dioxide emissions (and for other reasons, such as indoor air quality, cost, and safety).
Final thoughts on the most energy efficient ways to cook
Many professional kitchens have switched to induction cooking in the last few years. This isn’t surprising, given that induction offers better control, speedier cooking, and reduced exposure to fumes. It’s also more energy efficient and, therefore, often cheaper.
Still on the fence about your next cooktop? Check out the pros and cons for different fuel sources:
And read more about the effect of gas cooking on indoor air quality here.