Gas Stoves and Gas Grids

Cooking with gas represents only a tiny fraction of overall gas use. Some say it does not matter much for the climate, but is that true?

Gas stove
The debate about gas stoves is also a debate about the future of residential gas grids. (Image: rawpixel, CC0 1.0)

A recently published study investigating the connection between gas stoves and asthma cases has sparked a debate in the United States. The discussion was sparked by a quote from a US Consumer Product Safety Commission member who indicated that gas stoves might be banned. While it is unlikely that gas stoves will be banned in the US any time soon, a heated debate followed.

Gas stoves emit NO₂ and other pollutants known to cause health problems, and modern electric induction stoves provide a safer and more efficient alternative. But a question some people raised is whether gas stoves matter much for the climate.

According to data from the Energy Information Administration (EIA), gas stoves are responsible for less than three percent of household gas use in the United States. And that is only 15 percent of overall gas consumption in the US. The rest is in industry and power plants.

Gas stoves also leak Methane

Gas stoves not only emit carbon dioxide from the gas burned. they can also leak methane - the main component of fossil gas. Methane is a greenhouse gas much more potent than carbon dioxide.

But even considering methane leaks, it is likely that cooking with gas is only a minor contributor to climate change. So why bother? The small quantities of gas needed for cooking might even be provided by green sources like biogas or e-methane made with green electricity. But we cannot look at gas stoves in isolation.

The primary usage of gas in households is for space and water heating. And this is a much more significant climate issue. The most promising option to replace gas boilers here is to replace them with heat pumps or, depending on the location and the availability of other heat sources, with residential heat grids.

Let's imagine for a moment a scenario in which we ignore the adverse health effects of gas stoves. Could people keep their gas stoves while gas boilers for heating are removed due to their climate impact?

A Gas Grid just for Gas Stoves is implausible

That is hardly plausible. Residential gas grids – the pipes that deliver gas into homes and the supporting infrastructure – have significant costs. Keeping a gas grid operational while delivering only a tiny fraction of the gas volume makes little sense and would mean enormous costs for a few gas stove lovers.

This is likely also why the gas industry uses the topic of gas stoves to push back against policies to electrify buildings. Gas stoves can only stay as long as households continue to use fossil gas - for more than just cooking.

And this is why gas stoves will have to go anyway. They will lack the gas supply infrastructure in a scenario where fossil gas use for heating and warm water is drastically reduced. And this has to happen if fossil fuel use is reduced and eventually phased out.

Interestingly in many European countries, a completely different debate with the same background is happening: Whether or not to use clean hydrogen for heating. I covered this in an earlier newsletter.

Many European gas companies and lobbying organizations push the idea that gas grids could be converted to deliver hydrogen. While converting some parts of the gas transmission grid for hydrogen may make sense, it is implausible that hydrogen will be used for heating in any meaningful quantities. It is too inefficient compared to heat pumps.

And if you wonder if we might be using hydrogen for cooking: That is also very unlikely. Burning hydrogen creates even more NO₂ than burning fossil gas. It also burns with an almost invisible flame, which makes cooking with hydrogen a safety risk.

Whether the "culture war" around gas stoves or the question of hydrogen heating – both are just aspects of a much larger issue: Whether and how fast fossil gas grids will be dismantled.

Author: Hanno Böck

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