How good is cooking on a gas stovetop! Nothing comes close — not electric nor induction. It seems we’re so used to cooking with gas that food even tastes different when we don’t. Sure you may have one relative who swears by electric now but you had to sit through years of winging while they got used to it! Perhaps it’s that innate primal experience of cooking by flame.
But we’re going to have to transition away from gas at some point. Gas is a fossil fuel so there are finite reserves of the stuff. Whether in the next 10 years or the next 50 years, the transition will happen. Realistically we have decades of gas reserves left even at increased future demand. But why is this important? Gas for cooking is not a huge energy consumer in the grand scheme of things, when compared to gas consumption by industry and heating but what is significant is our commitment to a type of infrastructure. If you built a house today, in many parts of Australia, and around the globe, it would be the most sensible economic option to install gas appliances (cooking, heating water, heating etc — cooling is a different story since gas can’t cool spaces easily). Those appliances should last you around 20 years at least which means you, or whoever lives in your house, will likely be using gas for that period of time. And commercially it wouldn’t make sense to switch to anything else, with current alternative technologies. What’s more, your gas provider needs to maintain the pipes which get you your gas, and in some cases will have to build new pipelines which requires a lot of capital investment and they reasonable expect a return on that investment.
Now zoom your mind out for a moment and consider all the houses using gas appliances and all the dwellings being built which use gas. Not insignificant demand, right! And gas markets, as we learned in Microeconomics 101, operate according to supply and demand. So next time you see coal seam gas (CSG) proponents pop up on the news saying fracking isn’t bad for the environment or the people who live around the gas wells — which it is — you’ll know why. That gas is very very valuable and forecast to continue to be so. This is particularly controversial in Australia where prime agricultural land has been earmarked for CSG exploration and ground-water has been effected. Similar situations have arisen in the USA and in Europe.
Right, this is all very depressing so what’s the jiuntu solution? As with the electrification of transportation, we need to transition away from burning ancient organic matter to cook and heat. Luckily, we have the technology!
Whilst we may not like the transition to electric and induction cook-tops, we need to. Likewise with electric heaters and water heaters. Importantly, these need to be paired with onsite solar generation or with certified GreenPower to actually go carbon neutral. Interestingly, in some parts of the world switching from gas to electric and not sourcing the electricity used from renewables will actually increase overall emissions. This is because electricity generated from burning coal emits almost double the amount of greenhouse gases than electricity from burning gas, and in Australia where almost three quarters of electricity comes from burning coal, most would increase their carbon footprint by switching to electric without some investment in clean energy. This has been contentious with the growing popularity of electric cars since they’re only “green” if charged with carbon neutral electricity. But we have to start the transition somewhere and the same is true of electrifying our appliances.
Some innovators have started the conversation on what technology we can leverage to bring our homes to net zero carbon. It’s not only possible, it’s not that hard. At present, though, it’s not cheap either. Until making the switch —including factoring in the sunk capital expenditure of your set-up —makes economic sense, the eco-house is going to remain a niche market. To meet our pledge in Paris of limiting global temperature rise to two degrees of warming we need to change this. Many are talking about it, experimenting with it and sharing their knowledge but we need to make this change en masse.
That’s why my company, Nexergy, is building a platform which allows for devices in the home to intelligently manage their electricity consumption, as well as to source electricity from locally generated renewable energy. The so-called “smart grid” will take a little time to scale but we believe it’s the fastest way to cleaning up and optimising our energy systems, and allowing the electrification of our essential services. Then, gas will simply amount to a lot of hot air.