Can induction stoves convince home cooks to give up gas?

This is a re-post from Yale Climate Connections by Sarah Wesseler

You walk into your kitchen to make pasta. After filling a pot with water, you place a small silicone mat in the middle of your counter, then set the pot above it and open a stovetop app on your phone. A short time later the water is boiling, although there’s no heat source in sight.

Sound like science fiction? The products that enable this scenario are available on the market today. Florida-based InvisaCook is one of several companies selling cooking hobs designed to be installed directly under porcelain or granite countertops, freeing up workspace in the kitchen and creating a clean, modern aesthetic.

“Invisible” cooktops rely on induction, a type of electric cooking technology that has attracted growing interest as gas stoves have come under scrutiny for contributing to climate change and dangerous indoor air pollution. Induction appliances use electricity to create an electromagnetic field beneath the cooking surface that transfers a current to pots and pans above, generating heat directly in the cookware.

An image of a person cooking with a silver pan on what appears to be a granite countertop but is actually an InvisaCook stove.Preparing food on an InvisaCook cooktop. (Image credit: InvisaCook)

With rave reviews from prominent food writers and chefs, induction represents a quantum leap ahead of the electric stoves most Americans are familiar with. With its fast cooking times, precise temperature control, easy cleanup, and exciting design possibilities (“invisible” stoves are just one of the induction cooktop models available on the market today), the technology is already established in Europe and Asia and seems destined to challenge gas stoves’ role as the appliance of choice for U.S. home cooks.

“As a culinary appliance, it’s superior in most ways to gas,” said Jeffery Liang, who helps Bay Area households go electric at BayREN, a coalition of Bay Area municipal governments focused on energy and resource efficiency.

But at Yale Appliance, a high-end Massachusetts retailer, the buzz around induction hasn’t yet translated to the sales floor. According to CEO Steve Sheinkopf, Boston is still a gas market.

“I am a big fan of induction, but the switch hasn’t been as pronounced as you would think.”

“There are barriers to converting from gas to induction, and they’re significant for a lot of people,” he said.

A growing support ecosystem is helping homeowners overcome these barriers, but more remains to be done.

The advantages of induction stoves and cooktops for climate change

A large-scale shift to induction would go a long way toward reducing heat-trapping greenhouse gas emissions. Researchers estimate that annual methane leaks from gas stoves in U.S. homes warm the climate by an amount similar to the CO2 emissions of half a million cars.

An image of a person cooking on a plug-in, portable platform that is an induction burner.The Advanced Energy Center allows local residents to borrow a portable induction hob and compatible cookware for two-week home test runs. (Image credit: Sonoma Clean Power)

More importantly, gas-powered kitchens often act as a barrier to broader home electrification, said Chad Asay, director of the Advanced Energy Center, a demonstration space for climate-friendly home technologies in Santa Rosa, California. Many American homes rely on three categories of gas-powered appliances: stoves, water heaters, and HVAC equipment. Gas water heaters and HVAC equipment have a larger climate impact than gas stoves, and homeowners are typically open to considering swapping them out for more-efficient electric models.

But kitchen equipment is another story. Since many people can’t envision giving up their gas stoves, their gas lines remain connected, and fossil fuel-powered water heaters and HVAC appliances stay online longer than they otherwise might.

“Really, the cooking is the crux,” Asay said. “If you get people to understand that it’s not hard to get off of gas in cooking, the rest of living an all-electric lifestyle is very easy for them to understand.”

Read: Checklist: How to take advantage of brand-new clean energy tax credits

And that all-electric lifestyle could be a boon to the climate: As consumers move away from highly polluting furnaces, home appliances, and cars in favor of newer, cleaner technology that runs on electricity, heat-trapping pollution from homes will fall.

Shifting American households away from gas appliances will also bring substantial public health benefits. Gas stoves leak dangerous toxins like nitrogen dioxide and benzene into the surrounding air, leading to an increased risk of respiratory disease, cancer, and other illnesses. A recent study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health found that gas stoves are responsible for 12.7% of current childhood asthma cases in the United States.

A middling marketplace

The Advanced Energy Center is run by the nonprofit power provider for California’s Sonoma and Mendocino counties with financial support from the California Energy Commission, which sets state energy policy. As a publicly funded, mission-driven organization, it’s dedicated to connecting residents with climate-friendly products, including induction stoves.

But the private sector hasn’t rushed to highlight this segment of the appliance market. According to Yale Appliance’s Sheinkopf, American stove manufacturers haven’t seemed particularly enthusiastic about the technology. “To give you an idea, on Black Friday, when a lot of things are promoted, I [could] only find one induction range that [was] being promoted.”

Retailers have also lagged on this front. Asay said no local companies took him up on his offer when he approached them about showcasing their induction offerings at the Advanced Energy Center in 2020. In-store displays reflected similar levels of apathy.

“In one of the stores, I went to find [the] induction demonstrations, and they were covered by all of the boxes of supplies for other devices,” he said. “Another store that I approached had no inductions to display at all.”  

Asay believes the American appliance industry will embrace induction once consumer demand rises to levels seen elsewhere. “They’ll believe it after it’s been proven — even though it’s being proven in other countries.”

Myths about induction cooktops and ranges

Consumer hesitation about induction often has little to do with induction itself, according to Noah Cordoba, kitchen electrification coordinator at the Building Decarbonization Coalition. Instead, the root cause is frequently a fear of giving up natural gas —which many people don’t even realize is a fossil fuel.

But Americans’ emotional connection to gas is rooted in misleading marketing, he said. “[It was] generated by multi-decadal gas industry campaigns that have been telling people that ‘hashtag, cooking with gas’ is going to make your food taste better and make you a better cook.”

Another problem is the lack of information about induction. Many Americans still don’t hear much about induction, and when they do, the messages aren’t always accurate.

Do you need new pans to use induction?

One common myth holds that induction requires purchasing an entirely new set of cookware, which is typically not the case, said Cordoba; if a magnet sticks to a pot or pan, it will work with induction.

Another misconception is that culinary techniques like searing, browning, frying, and cooking with a wok require the presence of fire. But this is also “luckily not true,” he said. “All induction is doing is heating the pan, and all gas is doing is heating the pan … So it’s all possible.”

Induction is also frequently confused with more familiar electric technologies, coil and radiant, that have left a bad taste in American mouths. According to Sam D’Amico, CEO of induction startup Impulse, this confusion is perpetuated by the fact that most induction cooktops look identical to their radiant counterparts. “In some sense, there’s been brand damage done to induction by the fact that the industrial design converges with radiant electric,” he said.

How expensive is induction?

One real downside of induction is the upfront cost. At the time of writing, Consumer Reports recommends several gas ranges costing around $600, but most of its induction picks start at well over this amount. Induction boosters say that less expensive models will become available as the U.S. induction market grows, but timelines are unclear.

Upgrading a home’s electric wiring to enable the addition of a new 220-volt appliance can also be expensive — in some cases, more expensive than the stove itself.

“Let’s say maybe you have a 200-amp panel but your stove has gas — it’s maybe a couple hundred bucks, because you just need to get a new wire drop installed,” said Impulse’s D’Amico. “The situation where you maybe need to upgrade your panel, [but] your service connection is good enough . . . then it’s like $3,000 bucks.” Extreme scenarios — for example, if an older home’s existing electric conduit is too narrow to accommodate a larger service connection, forcing the owners to dig up the front lawn to install new wiring — could cost upward of $10,000, he said.

To get around this issue, Impulse and another Bay Area startup, Channing Street Copper Company, have developed induction stoves with integrated batteries that allow them to be plugged into standard 110-volt outlets. Thanks to the batteries, the stoves can also serve as home energy storage.

An image of a pot full of boiling water on a grey and black induction stovetop.Venture capital–backed startup Impulse is developing an induction cooktop with an integrated battery. (Image credit: Impulse)

Impulse is targeting the high end of the market with its initial product, which it plans to launch this year. D’Amico said many households should be able to get one for significantly less than the sticker price by combining different government rebates and tax credits.

The Inflation Reduction Act marks the first time the federal government is getting involved in stove electrification, and the financial incentives could be a game-changer. Starting later this year, low- and moderate-income Americans will be eligible for rebates of up to $840 for new electric cooking appliances, along with up to $2,500 for electric wiring and $4,000 for breaker box improvements.

Many California residents can access additional funds. Since 2020, BayREN has offered rebates for residents replacing gas stoves with induction; this year, homeowners will be eligible for $750. BayREN’s Jeffery Liang said that the induction rebate uptake has increased by approximately 300% over the past year, driven in part by outreach efforts like webinars featuring cooking demonstrations by Michelin-starred chefs. 

The Advanced Energy Center offers additional $500 rebates for induction stoves, sweetening the deal with a free set of cookware.

Uneven access

Such programs give Bay Area homeowners access to a wide range of information and personalized assistance with the transition to induction. But in much of the country, the induction-curious have access to fewer resources. While groups like the Building Decarbonization Coalition, Rewiring America, and Yale Appliance provide helpful online resources, it can be difficult for many Americans to find induction stoves to view in person or get help understanding which incentives they qualify for.

In Columbus, Ohio, environmental lawyer Madeline Fleisher recently cofounded a community organization, Electrify Central Ohio, to help people in the region learn about induction and other aspects of home decarbonization. Her own experience convinced her of the need. “As a consumer starting to look into this stuff, I was like, ‘I don’t know what I’m doing and I need help,’” she said. “And it wasn’t there.”

She said that while a number of Ohio municipalities have progressive energy policies, stoves haven’t been a priority. “And then there’s just, as of yet, maybe not that critical mass of consumer interest where you go to your Lowe’s or whatever and there’s someone there who would give you the tap dance about induction cooking,” she noted.

Exacerbating this geographical unevenness, Inflation Reduction Act rebates will be administered by state energy offices, which have significant leeway to interpret the act in different ways. They can even choose not to offer rebates.

“The only states that are going to get this money are the states that apply for it,” said Noah Cordoba of the Building Decarbonization Coalition. “There may be states that choose not to apply for this money because of political reasons, or because maybe the state just doesn’t have the bandwidth at the energy office level to do it.” Several organizations are working to help states that lack those resources, he said.

Regardless of which state they live in, Americans will likely see improved access to induction in the coming years thanks to clean energy pushes in liberal areas, as well as greater scrutiny of gas stoves at the federal level.

Yale Appliance’s Sheinkopf believes that the bans on gas in new construction projects that have been implemented in cities across the country —not to mention California’s recent law banning the sale of gas water heaters and HVAC equipment starting in 2030—will force the American appliance industry to take induction seriously.

At the national level, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission has also pledged to consider new regulations on gas stoves, even floating the prospect of banning them altogether.

“It’s not a matter of adoption, it’s a matter of legislation,” Sheinkopf said. “In order to sell products, you’ve got to either conform or not sell, right? So I think that’s going to be one of the main drivers for induction in the future.”

Posted by Guest Author on Tuesday, 17 January, 2023


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