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The gas vs. electric stove debate leaves out a crucial contender: environmentally-friendly induction

The wooden knobs of an induction stove
Photo courtesy of Channing Street Copper Company

When news broke that a ban on new gas stoves was possible debates ensued, as people squabbled over which stove — gas or electric — cooks better, which has the better tech, which represents the true essence of Americana, to most importantly, which one is best for the climate and your health. However, as the gas versus electric debates turned political, the majority left out a key opponent: the green party… I mean induction stoves.

The U.S. Product and Safety Commission clarified they have no plans to ban gas stoves as speculation rose last week about a potential regulation. However, even though there will not be a national ban on gas burners anytime soon, that doesn’t negate the fact that natural gas stoves emit air pollutants at levels the World Health Organization (WHO) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) deem unsafe.

The debate was sparked by Richard Trumka Jr, a member of the commission, who suggested the ban, citing the results of a new study.

Led by the sustainability research nonprofit, Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI), and the Sydney School of Public Health, the study found that over 12% of childhood asthma is linked to gas stove use.

For a long time, researchers have known that a strong link exists between asthma and indoor gas cooking, but as the researchers of the present study point out, the linkage on a population level has largely been ignored until now.

The study was published last month in the peer-reviewed publication, the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. It delves deep into the numbers, finding that if gas stoves were not present, the proportion of childhood asthma would decrease by around 20% in populous states like New York, California, and Illinois, by 15% in Massachusetts, and by 13% in Pennsylvania.

In other words, when childhood asthma is prevalent in 35% of households in the U.S. and as high as 68% in places like California and Illinois, a ban would be in the interest of public health.

The health risks of natural gas appliances aren't limited to stoves. Studies show that the same issues arise with other gas appliances like dryers and water heaters.

Benefits for public health usually translate to benefits for the environment. Last year, a Stanford study that tested gas stoves in 53 homes found that all of the stoves leaked alarming levels of methane gas, even when turned off. These leaks equaled 76% of their total methane gas emissions. Aside from worsening climate change, methane and nitrogen dioxide contribute to air pollution by forming ground-level ozone and smog.

As Harvard Health Publishing reports, the methane levels rose above the EPA’s standards for outdoor cooking with burners and ovens within mere minutes.

So, when compared to gas, electric stoves are easily better for the environment. They do not leak dangerous levels of methane or emit other global-warming-inducing greenhouse gases. Because of this, cooking with an electric stove is also less likely to cause respiratory problems.

That’s why several cities have already passed bans on gas including Berkeley in 2019, San Francisco in 2020, and New York City in 2021. These bans prohibit the installation of gas stoves in new buildings and encourage homeowners and renters to take similar steps by replacing their stoves or using a cooktop instead.

Soon, the Bay Area may even extend the ban to natural gas furnaces and water heaters. While President Biden said he does not support a national ban on gas stoves, the White House understands that switching from gas is beneficial, as the Inflation Reduction Act gives rebates of up to $840 to switch from gas to electric or induction and up to $500 to cover the costs.

While the rebates apply to both electric and induction ranges, the great gas versus electric debate continuously leaves the latter out.

But when electric and induction square off in the sustainability ring, the induction cooktop prevails as the more environmentally-friendly option.

That's where startups like Channing Street Copper Company, come in. Channing Street is based out of Berkeley California and created what it calls, the world’s first energy storage-equipped induction electric range: The Charlie.

A man pulls a turkey out of the oven under an induction stove
Photo courtesy of Channing Street Copper Company

The Charlie is an induction stove: a type of electric cooktop that uses electromagnetism to heat cookware. Essentially, it turns the cookware into its own source of heat. Because these cooktops heat cookware with electromagnetism, there are limits to the type of pots and pans you can use.

Regardless, this method makes the system highly efficient — 5% to 10% more energy-efficient than conventional electric stoves to be exact, and about three times more efficient than gas stoves. In fact, in many models, Weldon Kennedy, co-founder and Chief Marketing Officer of Channing Street Copper, says their efficiency can be below 50%.

According to Consumer Reports, on top of the environmental and health benefits, induction stoves are easier to clean, cook faster, and have built-in safety features to prevent the burning that some traditional electric ranges cause, Still, because electric stoves only account for a minimal portion of residential energy use, the environmental benefits of using one significantly outweigh gas.

There are a variety of options on the market ranging from about $1,500 to $6,000. These include big-name brands like Samsung, GE, Bosch, Frigidaire, and more. However, the main inhibitor to these options (besides price) is that induction stoves require a mega-strong outlet that most houses don’t have.

As Weldon Kennedy, points out it can cost as much as $20,000 to have electrical work done in the Bay Area, far more than the cost of a high-end stove. This rewiring can prevent consumers from going with the option best for the environment and their health.

So Channing Street jumped over the hurdle and added a battery.

The Charlie has a full power, four burner cooktop plus a convection oven. Because one argument against induction and electric stoves is that they don’t work in a power outage, Channing Street made their onboard battery so powerful that it can run the stove, a fridge, or another appliance during an outage. According to Kennedy, the Charlie is the only electric range that works when the power is out.

Channing Street is currently accepting pre-orders for the Charlie. It is expected to be out next spring and costs $5,999. According to Kennedy, it qualifies for multiple federal and local rebates and tax credits. With Inflation Reduction Act rebates and the bill's 30% tax credit, it could drop to $4,250, comparable to other high-end induction stoves like Bosch.

On top of outperforming gas in sustainability, health, and efficiency, Kennedy argues that induction is a better financial decision.

“There are savings on your energy bill from switching from natural gas to electric,” he told FootPrint Coalition. "Fossil fuel prices are the very definition of inflation, while efficient electric appliances use the cheapest energy we've ever had."

This is because induction stoves are more efficient. 85-90% of the energy generated is used for cooking, whereas with gas or electric, only 65-70% is used for cooking. This also makes them faster. The average gas stove takes about half an hour to boil five liters of water, whereas the average induction takes a little over five minutes. So, because induction uses less energy for the same amount of cooking in less time, consumers may end up paying less for energy consumption.

Like Channing Street, another startup Impulse, also added a battery to the traditional induction stove, and in November 2022, it raised a $20 million Series A funding round to power them up.

Impulse is based out of San Francisco. Their high-precision induction stovetops boil water in less than a minute, and like the Charlie, arrive ready to install, using an electrical panel. Plus, with an integrated battery, the stove always has backup power. Even at peak use, the stove draws less power from the outlet thanks to a lithium-ion battery. The company’s founder and CEO Sam D’Amico said this allows it to use less energy than conventional models.

According to Canary Media, Impulse has not announced a price for the range and is not yet taking orders, though they may begin this year. Like the Charlie, tax credits in the IRA may make the switch more feasible.

In terms of having the most climate impact possible, Kennedy says Channing Street is focused on the retrofit and renovation market. TechCrunch reports that Impulse, on the other hand, sits itself squarely in the challenge around residential and light industrial decarbonization.

The science behind induction stoves has been around for almost a century, but advancements by startups like Channing Street and Impulse are happening every day.

According to Kennedy “40 million homes cook with natural gas.” His company and Impulse can’t lead the transition alone. “If we do 1% of the market every year, we would be at $240 million in annual revenue. There needs to be ten venture-backed companies of this size to address this problem. And that's just talking about ranges. There are also cooktops, water heaters, and dryers. There are going to be multiple venture-backed winners in this space.

Kennedy says that Channing Street is also looking into swapping out the gas range in affordable housing renovations in Berkeley, and is in conversation with contractors running installations.

Channing Street's logo on the side of the stove, written in copper color
Photo courtesy of Channing Street Copper Company

Inductions and electric stoves are far more beneficial to the environment and public health than gas. Depending on where you live, there may also be financial benefits associated with them.

However, because many can’t afford the switch or renting inhibits them from making that choice, opening a window and allowing for proper ventilation with a range hood when cooking with gas can help improve air quality, reduce the risk of grease fires, and filter out harmful contaminants.

While induction wins the great stove debate, one of the most environmentally friendly things to do is always to buy used because it prevents a good-condition appliance from ending up in a landfill. Stoves, both gas and electric, have longer consumer lives than most appliances. So, if purchasing a new induction or electric isn't feasible, buying a stove a couple of years old from Facebook Marketplace or Craigslist cuts down on both the toxic e-waste produced when a stove is trashed and the materials extracted from the Earth to make a new one.

Gas stoves may not be banned nationally anytime soon, but as consumers have shown with other home electrification improvements, you don’t need a mandate to do what’s best for your health and the planet.

“Once you experience induction cooking, this is it,” Kennedy said. “This is the stove of the future.”

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