An estimated 35% of Americans still use gas stoves. That’s despite the known benefits of their electric counterparts: While burning gas in a contained indoor space like a kitchen causes harmful and environmentally damaging air pollution, electric stoves are cleaner and safer and tend to outperform gas options across metrics.
To knock out emissions, we need to electrify our devices at the same time the power industry is undergoing a massive shift to renewable energy.
But gas stoves still hold tremendous social clout thanks in part to a concerted lobbying effort by the oil and gas industry to keep their sales up even as cars, buses, and buildings all go electric. And they may just become a final frontier to electrifying our society.
As an engineer and entrepreneur who’s devoted the last five years to optimizing clean energy use in the home, I believe electrification will be key to curbing greenhouse gas emissions and combating climate change. Residential energy use accounts for anywhere from 13 to 20% of greenhouse gas emissions in the US, and gas appliances are partly to blame.
Rather than relying directly on a non-renewable resource such as gas, electric devices derive energy from the grid, which is slowly shifting toward a mix of renewable and emission-free power sources, such as solar and wind. To knock out emissions, we need to electrify our devices at the same time the power industry is undergoing a massive shift to renewable energy.
But getting there won’t be easy. Beyond the structural challenges of building out renewable energy and transitioning society away from oil and gas, embracing electric options must occur at the individual level: in the house.
Electrifying the home — starting with gas stoves
Gas stoves are just one component of this, and their prevalence is due primarily to the cultural weight that’s placed on owning one. The fossil fuel industry invests a lot of money in advertising and propaganda around getting people to cook with gas. As early as the 1930s, advertisements targeting housewives pushed gas stoves as the luxury option for a kitchen renovation. The term “cooking with gas,” a catchphrase to celebrate productivity or success, was coined by the industry as part of this effort, a February Mother Jones investigation found.
Entire cities, like Seattle and San Francisco, have now banned natural gas in new buildings to curb the prevalence of gas stoves. But to wholly electrify a home, other common appliances must be switched out, too: Gas-powered cars, air conditioners, and hot water heaters can be replaced by electric vehicles (EVs) and electric air and water heat pumps for warming and cooling. There’s an electric and gas version of almost every appliance.
Fortunately, buy-in for these devices is relatively strong — national surveys show a majority of Americans support electric alternatives to gas appliances and would embrace tax incentives and rebates to make these options more enticing and accessible.
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Want to electrify? Check your electrical panel
But before taking the plunge into electric, it’s worth checking one lesser-known household item: your electrical panel. Also known as a breaker panel, that metal box of switches — likely tucked away in a corner or a basement — connects your home to an energy distribution line that’s connected to the grid. Electrical panels in older homes are often unable to withstand the power that’s needed to electrify every appliance, so it’s worth looking into an upgrade. That could run anywhere from $1,500 to $4,500.
If you’ve embraced EVs, you are likely familiar with this. Eighty percent of EV charging occurs at home, where owners have installed charging stations of their own. Many go into this process and are hit with the surprise additional responsibility of upgrading their electrical panel first.
Plan ahead to replace appliances when they fail
Electrifying your appliances is a multi-year effort. It typically happens piecemeal, and, while satisfying, can be costly and laborious. People will go at different paces. The average homeowner can’t afford to trash all of their appliances and replace them with electric alternatives right away. Instead, most of us have small windows of opportunity when our appliances die and need to be replaced. So, if you’re looking to electrify, you should prepare in advance. Do your research ahead of time to locate brands and suppliers you may want to invest in so that when an appliance fails, you’ll be prepared to switch to the electric option.
While many of these options have long been prohibitively expensive, prices are declining as renewable options grow across the energy sector. Take solar power, for instance: Once the most expensive form of energy to produce, the cost of generating it has declined by 70% over the last decade. It’s now the most affordable option on the market. Electric appliances are likely to follow the same pattern.
But until this happens, certain electric options are already cheaper to purchase than gas-powered mainstays, including (depending on brand and make) the electric stove. If you’re ready to begin electrifying your home, start there.