Are we still cooking with gas?

A few months ago I decided to become a member of the Alternative Technology Association (ATA). I did this mainly for the Renew and Sanctuary magazines, which feature articles ranging from sustainable energy options through to walkthroughs of new sustainably built houses.

That all sounds quite noble, but really I just wanted to look a more pretty house pictures.

Anyhow, they’ve just released a new report on the economics of gas vs electric appliances, and I thought I’d share the results. Brace yourselves for a bit of copy and paste, because I know clicking links can be annoying.

Many households in Australia would be better off switching from gas to efficient electric appliances according to a major new study by the Alternative Technology Association (ATA).

The report Are We Still Cooking with Gas? found that the combination of increasing gas prices and improving electric appliance efficiency is making electricity a cheaper option for many traditionally gas-fuelled energy needs – including space heating, water heating and cooking. Efficient electric appliances include heat pump hot water systems, induction cook tops and split system reverse cycle air-conditioners.

The research found that new homes and existing electric-only homes in Victoria, NSW, SA, QLD, the ACT and Tasmania are likely to be locking themselves into higher energy costs over the longer term by connecting to the gas network. This is particularly relevant to homes in new estates, as well as rural and regional households connecting to newly expanding gas networks – often driven by government-subsidised roll out programs.

The analysis is the first piece of detailed research that considers the impact of future gas price rises on residential households in Australia.

Damien Moyse, the ATA’s policy and research manager, said increasing wholesale gas prices were already starting to bite, and would continue to push up household gas bills.

“We have reached a tipping point,” Mr Moyse said. “No longer can households automatically assume that gas is the cheapest fuel source for household energy needs. This is counter-intuitive to the perception of gas as a cheap fuel over the past three decades.”

The economics of switching from gas to electricity is best in the warmer climate regions of the country, including South Australia, Queensland and many parts of NSW. These regions typically also have higher gas energy charges.

Among a number of recommendations, the report called for an improvement in energy concessions to address cost-of-living impacts caused by gas price rises. It also called for the replacement of government programs to expand gas networks with ones that directly address energy affordability in regional areas.

“Our advice to households is to do your research when your next gas appliance needs to be replaced and don’t simply assume that gas is the cheapest option – as you may be locking yourself into higher prices for a long time to come,” Mr Moyse said.

The report basically confirms what I had started to suspect anyway.

(I’m pretty annoyed at the complete exclusion of WA from the report, but there is a map on page 87 that shows we’re in the same climatic zone as Brisbane, Sydney, Canberra, and Adelaide, so we can probably be fairly confident in extrapolating. The reason for our exclusion is that WA is not part of the National Energy Market, which means that the state government is responsible for regulating the retail energy market instead of the Australian Energy Regulator. I doubt gas prices here are significantly different, though if anyone knows any better please tell. Surprisingly, there’s no discussion on this report in the forums).

While we’re still getting mains gas connected, mainly for our outdoor kitchen, it means that we might need to question what sort of booster system we want for our solar hot water system. We were all set to go with gas, but now we’re thinking of switching to electric.

I think researching the hot water system is going to be more painful than I’d thought.

Addendum:

Just did a quick search and found this site, which says: “There are considerable differences in retail gas prices for each of the states, the cheapest being Victoria followed by Western Australia, South Australia, New South Wales and Queensland.”

However, it then goes on to add: “Retail gas prices in Australia have generally trended upwards in the last few years, especially in Western Australia.”

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12 Comments:

  1. Interesting. I was pondering a similar question on a much smaller scale yesterday. Here in Brazil, the electric kettle doesn’t exist – in fact you can be hard pressed to find a kettle of any description. Consequently I have a very lovely Le Creuset kettle that sits on the gas. I was wondering about the cost of boiling water using gas vs. electric because I’ve become quite fond of my old fashioned kettle and wondered if I should keep using it when we are back in Oz. But given my tendency to overfill with more water than I’m ready to use and also the time wasted between it boiling and me getting to turn the kettle off, I think I’d better stick with electric.

    • I always overfill the kettle too, I think it has something to do with a fear of running out of hot water. Now that I think about it, I also have that fear in the shower, especially in winter. I always want a bigger hot water system than I need!

  2. Yes I pondered this even from just a pure economic standpoint as a lot of our utility bills are just for the service and not the actual usage! Induction cooktops are very efficient and fast and if you use a microwave and then supplement it with a solar oven and a rocket stove you could go off grid using solar panels and a bank of batteries.
    So hot water system – assume it will be solar evac tubes? with electric instant boost?

    • I know what you mean about the service cost vs usage cost – that’s what I think will happen with us if we move to electric booster. Which means that we might be better off not having mains gas! The SHWS at this stage I think we’re just going for the traditional roof-mounted tank as it seems to be the most efficient. Evac tubes I think are better in cooler climates, from what I’ve read.

  3. I recently (briefly) looked into the price of gas vs electricity for a University assignment. It seems to depend on what publication you read and what state you live in. I came across a few news articles which said that gas is increasing in popularity due to coal prices increasing (once again. particularly in WA) which in turn is increasing the price of electricity. We have no mains gas in the new place – even still, we’ll have a couple of gas appliances which will run off bottled.

    • Yeah this is the conundrum. I think people turn away from electricity because it’s all fossil fuelled at the moment, and gas is both more environmentally friendly and cheaper, but that could turn around if electricity started being generated from renewable sources.

  4. Looks like we are heading down the right path as we have only got a gas hob in our new place ( I just couldn’t change over completely as I love cooking with gas!)
    We are installing 8 kW of very good quality PV roof panels hence the decision not to use gas. Our current home has gas heating, gas hot water system and cooking with gas which has been very efficient but times are changing.
    I am also guilty of overfilling the kettle but after watching an excellent UK documentary a couple of years ago on wasting energy in the home I now try not to fill the kettle to the brim and try not to get waylaid and boil it again and sometimes again lol.

    • 8 kW is a lot! I thought we were only allowed 5 kW? I think gas has a place, especially when cooking – if we weren’t so keen on an induction cooktop then we would certainly go with a gas cooktop.

  5. I’m afraid it is all a bit technical for me and I have left it to my better half to research and sort out. We have a 5 kw (Sunnyboy) inverter which is the max allowed in metro Perth area domestically with the 8KW PV roof panels. We have a very similar solar PV system in our current home which has been fantastic (no power bills).
    I am also having an induction cooktop installed so it will be interesting to see if I get converted:)

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