Just as Republicans have identified one’s method of cooking as the newest front in the culture wars, the Department of Energy has proposed efficiency standards for cooktop appliances for the first time, something few would care about if not for the absurd hysteria surrounding gas stoves.
For the uninitiated, there is a growing body of evidence as the result of decades of research showing gas stoves produce dangerous amounts of indoor air pollution especially for children. People who buy air quality monitors and test the emissions of their gas stoves find clear, direct causal relationships between harmful particulate emissions in their kitchens and the times the gas stove is on. A recent study that adds to the body of research found that 12.7 percent of childhood asthma cases in the U.S. is “attributable to gas stove use.”
Earlier this month, a commissioner of the Consumer Product Safety Commission said that it is the commission’s role to regulate dangerous products and, given the virtual consensus among experts that gas stoves are a health risk, the commission may have to regulate them. Several Republican politicians as well as honorary Republican Joe Manchin only heard something like “armed government agents are going to no-knock raid your house and seize your gas stove” and freaked out. Manchin and Ted Cruz are proposing legislation that would ban the CPSC from banning gas stoves.
CPSC Chair Alexander Hoehn-Saric said on January 11 they have no intention to ban gas stoves. CPSC did not respond to a Motherboard request for comment on whether it is preparing separate regulations for gas stoves.
But there is a wide gap between doing nothing and banning gas stoves. From that chasm emerges the Department of Energy’s (DOE) proposed rules, which were released on Wednesday after almost seven years of research and consultation.
DOE proposes for the first time having efficiency standards for all cooktop surfaces, whether gas or electric. The 87-page, triple-columned proposed rule outlines the history of DOE’s efforts to determine what the appropriate standards are, attempting to strike a balance between health benefits, energy efficiency, and cost savings to consumers without being burdensome on manufacturers.
To determine that, DOE analyzed the existing energy efficiency of standard cooktop units for three categories: Electric cooking tops that have raised coils, smooth electric cooktops (which includes but is not exclusive to induction cooktops, which use electromagnetism to heat the cooking element), and gas cooktops. The agency then tested different designs and energy conservation methods, as well as how much each of those cost, to determine new efficiency standards industry could accomplish that would save consumers money in the long run.
For coil electric cooktops, DOE found there are no possible efficiencies to be gained and such cooktops will simply suck forever. Therefore, the efficiency standard for such cooktops will be 199 kilowatt-hours per year with standard use, the same as the baseline testing found.
For smooth electric cooktops, DOE is clearly trying to nudge the industry towards induction, which is more efficient than traditional smooth cooktops that employ a heating element. DOE found a 24 percent energy savings on average when switching from a traditional smooth electric cooktop to induction. The new efficiency standards propose a 17 percent reduction over the baseline, from 250 kilowatt-hours per year to 207.
DOE is not proposing banning gas cooktops. I cannot emphasize this enough. DOE is not proposing banning gas cooktops. Instead, they are proposing efficiency standards that would make gas cooktops 32 percent more efficient than the agency’s baseline testing, which will in turn reduce indoor air pollution and save people money.
DOE thinks this can be accomplished through more thoughtful cooktop design. From the proposed regulations: “DOE's testing showed that energy use was correlated to burner design and cooking top configuration ( e.g., grate weight, flame angle, distance from burner ports to the cooking surface) and could be reduced by optimizing the design of the burner and grate system." In other words, simply by forcing manufacturers to pay attention to efficiency, DOE thinks it can make our gas cooktops 32 percent more efficient without sacrificing cooking quality. This would be in line with what happened when the federal government started enforcing emission standards for cars.
Manufacturers will have to meet these standards starting in 2027. DOE estimates that, after balancing the lower energy costs from the more efficient appliances as well as the higher costs of manufacturing, the efficiency standards will pay for themselves in an average of 1.5 to five years. The average lifespan of a gas range is about 15 to 20 years.
Yes, those damn bureaucrats in Washington are at it again, trying to make our home appliances more efficient while still being just as effective in order to save us money and improve our health. Big government runs amok yet again.