Municipal efforts to decarbonize new construction homes and buildings have been making the news lately. Customers have largely been accepting of the switch to electrify their space and water heating, but it’s become clear there is an entrenched resistance to electrify cooking. While electric ranges are the affordable option when electrifying one’s kitchen, not everyone is a fan. Cooking, whether out of necessity or passion, can be rather subjective. Additionally, the gas industry has been highly effective in convincing Americans that “cooking with gas” is the superior way to go. As the momentum for electrification grows, there’s been a resurgence of interest in an old technology that offers superior cooking performance—induction cooking.
Induction’s Magnetic Personality
Induction cooktops are emerging into their own spotlight, but it’s not a very public-facing one. An average person will not get a glimpse behind the curtain, err… kitchen, at their favorite trendy restaurant to note the growing culinary use of induction cooktops. And perusing the myriad of YouTube® cooking vlogs, one may not readily notice the portable tabletop induction burner often used. But the benefits of induction cooktops have not gone unnoticed among chefs and other cooking professionals. Induction cooking options afford greater flexibility in the kitchen. From built-in units that offer a range of customization options to tabletop units, which allow for portability and easy storage, induction cooking options are ideal for large-scale catering or entertaining, as well as accommodating a small kitchen.
Since induction works by heating the pan directly rather than the cooktop—heating only the cookware and what’s inside it—it allows for more precise temperature control and less time needed for your a pot of water to come to a boil. The flame-free cooking works by initiating an electric current when the unit is powered on and a compatible cooking vessel is present, which together, generate an oscillating magnetic field. To be compatible, the cooking vessel must be made of or contain a ferromagnetic metal such as cast iron or stainless steel. Essentially, this process means the heat is coming from within the pan, making this method of cooking a lot more energy-efficient than gas or electric resistance ranges. This technology also makes for a cooler kitchen environment as it heats only the cookware without radiating to the surrounding area. This efficiency bonus means that the ambient temperature of the kitchen (whether at home or professional) becomes easier to manage and more comfortable for the cook, guests, and/or staff.
Safety is another key benefit of cooking with induction. Due to the way induction cooktops work, you could safely touch the cooktop while it’s on and not get burned. This feature makes cooking while entertaining in one’s own kitchen or with children much safer than gas stoves or electric resistance stoves. Induction models also feature automatic pan detection to ensure correct positioning of pots and pans, and small object detection to prevent accidental use if cutlery or towels are left on the control panel.
What’s Holding Induction Back?
As more new building projects are undertaken with the goal of electrification, there is a dilemma of sorts. All of the new electric end-uses add to the load that must be supplied. The panel capacity and the building site’s service capacity can present a sizable hurdle to confront when electrifying an existing home or multifamily building. After electrifying space and water heating, a property owner needs to determine if there will be enough panel capacity and/or service capacity to then also electrify cooking. Oftentimes there isn’t.
Take, for example, a condo-owner with whom I spoke as part of my research; she wanted to electrify her condo. She bought an electric clothes dryer and had recently installed an at-home EV charger. Her neighbor had installed a hot tub earlier that year. When she went to switch her stove from gas to induction, she found that there was no longer enough electrical service capacity to support electrified cooking. She now must wait until the entire condo complex upgrades its service to the property before she can install the induction stove she wants.
Another obstacle to the electrification of cooking is limited awareness and familiarity with induction cooking options. Some utilities, cities, and community choice aggregators have created lending programs, designed to increase the market penetration of induction cooktops, that enable someone interested in the technology to borrow a portable induction cooktop. These programs let consumers gain familiarity with the safety and convenience benefits mentioned above. But induction cooking is only beginning to find its spotlight. Big-box retailers still seem to be unaware of its potential and floor staff tend to not be knowledgeable on its efficiency or usage criteria.
Fitting the Final Piece in Place
So where does that leave those who are looking to decarbonize their homes? Practitioners seeking decarbonization must amplify efforts to promote induction cooking so consumers are aware they have a responsive, high-performance electric cooking option. And you never know—it may just win over die-hard gas cooks who do not want to switch to just a plain old electric stove! Getting there will require a combination of financial incentives, expanded lending programs to improve awareness, and testimonials to let consumers know about this amazing, safe, and energy-efficient electric cooking option. Together, these efforts will fill in the missing piece to a completed building decarbonization puzzle.