Efficiency and Losses, Gas v. Electric

In line with the Richard Trumka kerfuffle about banning gas stoves, I thought it would be interesting to start a discussion about the factors that must be considered if we are to talk meaningfully about “efficiency”. I mean, if we can’t talk meaningfully about the factors, how can we justify taking people’s choices from them?

In this thread, I’m NOT talking about respiratory health. To me, that’s a completely separate issue, and the sooner they’re separated, the better off everyone will be.

I’m also NOT talking about efficiency of induction cookers. Any putative advantages (over radiant or coil) there are truly tiny, and I defy anyone to show that they will save enough on their electric bill over their time of home ownership to pay to switch to induction.

So… I’ll start. I was curious about how much electricity is lost between the time it’s generated at the utility’s plant, and until it reaches our point of use. Sources differ, but some reputable ones say transmission losses account for 8-15% of the power generated. I found this article illuminating: https://insideenergy.org/2015/11/06/lost-in-transmission-how-much-electricity-disappears-between-a-power-plant-and-your-plug/

Considering that burning gas to generate the power in the first place is only about 35% efficient, and the efficiency of burning the same gas at home is effectively the same 35%, what IS the argument for electric? I know it’s not entirely that simple (e.g., there may be gas leaks, and extending new gas infrastructure costs $$$$ when the electric grid is already there). But when you already have a gas line to/past your property (or a pad on which to sit a propane tank), isn’t it pretty simple?

See, also: https://blog.se.com/energy-management-energy-efficiency/2013/03/25/how-big-are-power-line-losses/#:~:text=The%20transmission%20over%20long%20distances,as%20heat%20in%20the%20conductors.&text=The%20overall%20losses%20between%20the,range%20between%208%20and%2015%25.

Occasionally, I will watch this youtube presenter. I think he explains science in “easy to understand” language.
As far as gas vs. electric, I found this video both interesting and informative.

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If we are entirely talking about pure energy efficient, then I think the power plant based vs home based are about the same. Newer power plants are a little better. That being said, at this very moment, the average thermal electricity power plant is about what you said: 35-40%.


A gas stove at home is about 35-40% efficient to convert that energy into the cooking vessels. This of course can vary as well.

Now, you know well that part of the argument is that power plant does not need to be based on gas or coal, and so much of the debate is if a 10-15% efficient solar panel power plant is still better than a 60% efficient future gas and coal combined cycle power plant. Thus, it no longer about efficiency.

I have two electric kettles. They are fast and very efficient.


Realistically speaking, yes, it does. Unless/until there is some technological or materials science advance that allows storage of power for when (and where) the sun don’t shine and when the props are becalmed, we will be burning fossil fuels to spin the turbines. Geothermal, hydro and tide generation will never have the necessary capacity. Fusion is decades away, if even practicable. If hydrogen extraction worked, we’d have been doing and burning it already. Frankly, fission reactors are the best solution in the time we (think) we have left. That and geo-scale carbon sequestration.

A point in making my OP is that no one should feel, talk or act like any efficiency arguments are dispositive.

If you search the “transmission loss” topic, you can find a state-by-state ranking of who loses the most electricity that way. It turns out that larger, more rural states with smaller populations lose less than smaller, more densely populated ones per kWH. This is because (Dirty Little Secret Alert) transmission losses tend to be greater between the substation and your home than between the plant and substation. Switching off the gas will not help this situation.

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Oh, man, is that guy annoying. I couldn’t watch past 5:30.

What interesting and informative things did I miss?

Well, energy efficiency at the power plants (to go from gas/coal to electricity and then heating cookware) and energy efficiency at household gas stove (gas to heating cookware) are comparable. The energy efficiency argument never works. Moreover, natural gas usage for cooking is very small compared to the total natural gas use.

Yeah. Spread the word. Deny the conspiracy theory at your peril, though.

I thought the future was controlled induction that was super precise - like sous vide precision for the range in the form like the Control Freak.

I think induction might be pretty efficient - maybe more than gas and electric?

Not like many people think. When induction first hit the market and DoE studied it, we were told induction was 10% more efficient than other electric. This was based on some purely theoretical assumptions. Since then, IIRC, DoE has backtracked to the position that there is no meaningful difference in practice.

With gas, the situation is more complicated. A gas flame “wastes” a lot of heat (about 65% of the energy). It is true that much of that fraction never makes it into food. But that’s not to say that it is completely wasted. For instance, it can be indirectly useful for assessment and various cooking techniques, and to supplement heating.

NG is a standardized fuel that basically arrives to our homes with the same energy content per unit of volume it had when extracted, i.e., there’s no loss associated with transmission. Not so with electricity, where transmission losses range between 8-15%. And to the extent your electricity is generated by burning coal or gas, you start with a 65% efficiency loss, and then lose another 8-15% by the time you switch on your induction appliance.

There was a UK study done years ago about the economics of a 300-plate/day restaurant switching from gas to induction. It was based on then-current (and already very high) UK energy prices. A main conclusion was that it would take 14 years for the business to save any money through increased efficiency. That break-even point would be far longer in USA, where gas prices are much, much lower than in UK.



That same Youtuber just put out this much looser, but still interesting video re: gas v electric

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OK, I made it to about 14:00 on this one.

He’s running speed boiling tests on 4Q of cold water in an UNCOVERED disc pot, then complaining that it takes so long to boil that the CO2 levels get higher. This after: (a) acknowledging that his hood basically doesn’t work; and (b) disabling his HVAC system. Bear in mind he opens the vid with the observation that his quarters are so tightly insulated, his and his cat’s mere presence cause CO to spike >800ppm.

If his point is that electric hobs are plenty powerful for most uses, he’s right.

Catch me up… What pearls did he give you in the remaining 45 minutes?

I admit I didn’t finish it either, but more or less, you got the jist.

I don’t necessarily agree with his methods, for most of the reasons you stated, but I DO think he’s generally right that, for MOST folks, cooking w/ even old-style resistance coils is fine. There ARE applications where some of the inherent properties of gas are much more desirable (wok cooking in particular) and that a lot of the ‘indoor pollution’ inherent in having a gas stove can be alleviated with proper construction and ventilation.

All that aside, the REAL compelling reason to switch from gas to electric is that electric CAN be generated by burning fossil fuels, but can also be generated by renewables. So it makes sense, in general, to switch to electrically powered things, rather than things that depend solely on setting fire to hydrocarbons.

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I agree, with one exception: Many people are bothered by slow downward response of coil. If you’re habituated to that and the workarounds, coil remains a good choice.

This has a certain logic to it. Unfortunately, until the grid is all or mostly renewable, we’re still burning the same hydrocarbons–just in a different place and with the same inefficiency. And consideering the rank of kitchen CO contribution to the global level is Zero-Point-Zero-Something to begin with, well, let’s just say there are many things higher on the global priority list.

I get the impetus, I really do. People want to DO something, feel like they’re empowered. If that means choosing EVs and PV arrays for themselves and not flying, I totally respect that. But there better be compelling reasons for forcing others to make the same choices, and there damn well better be solid evidence.

It’s only a Feel Good Exercise if someone stops burning gas at home to “switch” to electricity made by burning gas at a hidden plant. It’s a little like ignoring the carbon footprint of cattle ranching by buying beef at the supermarket–out of sight, out of mind.

I have a very good friend who rightly considers himself environmentally conscious. He scrimps on water useage. He installed rootop panels. In a 10-year period, he’s had a new gas Jaguar, 2 new Prius hybrids, and 2 new Teslas. He keeps and heats 2 houses in widely separated states and flies constantly in between. Wherever he’s not in residence (see below), caretakers and gardeners drive their gas cars to mind the properties. In his retirement, he and his spouse conservatively fly 500,000 miles/yr EACH. There are gas scooters used at each house. Amazon and package carriers make multiple stops each day. Oh, and he has gas stoves.

So how do we compare my friend’s moral carbon footprint with someone else’s who wants to cook on one gas stove in one house, lives simply, keeps one old car, and never flies? Which one should get cut any slack? Neither?

You’re posing a false choice. No one is, or WILL, force someone to give up their already installed and working home gas range and swap it out with an electric. But it WOULD be worthwhile to mandate that, say, new construction of apartments have electric appliances, or even new residential construction! Those sorts of laws are HOW we make social change. When seatbelts were made mandatory to include in new cars, we didn’t force every older car off the road. Ditto airbags. We have slowly increased the percentage of electric vehicles out there by mandating that manufacturers sell some percent of their sales in EV’s. We mandate that a new govt vehicle must be an EV. None of these things makes ICE vehicles illegal, or forces them off the road. It just encourages the transition.

The same will, eventually, go for home appliances. Eventually, electric stoves of some sort will be the norm, and gas will be reserved for legacy or specific use cases.

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Therein lies the problem. The phasing-in of social engineering is still social engineering. Encouraging/educating is good. Mandating far less so.

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Mandates are how we got safer cars, safer food, safer drugs, etc. In a world controlled by capitalists, the force of law is just about the only mechanism we have to save the vast majority from the rapacious and immoral minority.


Oh, I think it’s capitalists who make the law. Just wait to see who’s made to shoulder the costs of carbon sequestration, and who profits most by it.

On this much, we completely agree. But election reform and the, ah, “French Solution” are now pretty far afield from gas v electric.