Renewable Roundup: Cooking without gas (Who needs methane, anyway?)

  • Published on June 17th, 2020

Professional chefs are all agog about municipal bans on natural gas for heating and cooking. Some are suing Berkeley, CA, claiming that the bans on flame will destroy much of the industry. It sounds like a lot of hot air [sic], even gaslighting to me. I want, therefore, to know how much of the protest has come from chefs themselves, and how much has been ginned up by the natural gas industry. Certainly some environmental groups have been raising that issue, as we will see below.

Cooking without gas. Photo CC by Benjamin Stone on Flickr
A cat can look at a cook, right? Photo CC by Benjamin Stone on Flickr

By Mokurai

Let’s start with the lawsuit, and then look at the expressed views of the pro-gas and pro-electric chefs and others, and the technology itself.

November 21, 2019

In July, Berkeley became the first city in the U.S. to ban natural gas pipes in new buildings as a means of achieving greenhouse gas reduction goals. More than a dozen other cities in California, including San Jose, have passed similar measures. Brookline, Mass., this week became the first city outside of California to join the municipal ban on natural gas.

“Many restaurants will be faced with the inability to make many of their products which require the use of specialized gas appliances to prepare, including for example flame-seared meats, charred vegetables, or the use of intense heat from a flame under a wok,” the lawsuit said. “Indeed, restaurants specializing in ethnic foods so prized in the Bay Area will be unable to prepare many of their specialties without natural gas.”

As Lauren Sommer of member station KQED reports:

“About 27% of Berkeley’s greenhouse gas emissions come from natural gas. That’s on par with the nation; buildings, through heating and cooking, use almost a third of the natural gas consumed in the U.S.

“Natural gas lines also leak one of the most potent climate pollutants, methane, directly into the atmosphere.”

The Lawsuit

Environmentalists to California Restaurants: Drop Lawsuit Over Berkeley Gas Ban

Organizations including the Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council released a letter they sent Tuesday to the restaurants of the California Restaurant Association’s board members.

“By carrying out this lawsuit, CRA is positioning themselves in alliance with oil and gas industry executives, and not on the side of the majority of Californians who support solutions to the climate crisis,” the letter said.

The Berkeley City Council unanimously passed the ordinance in July 2019 as part of an effort to curb the city’s greenhouse gas emissions. Proponents say the city adopted the measure after extensive research and public review. The law went into effect [in January]. Because the law applies only to new construction, Berkeley restaurants in existing buildings may continue using gas appliances, even if those restaurants require renovation.

The Sierra Club has tracked more than 20 cities across the state that have adopted legislation similar to Berkeley’s banning natural gas or promoting electricity in new construction.

This is not the first time environmental groups have put pressure on  the California Restaurant Association over the lawsuit. In December 2019, the Natural Resources Defense Council, Earthjustice and other groups alleged that the gas industry was behind the lawsuit. The association denies that claim.

We are going to have fun with this process, and I am definitely going to come back to the issue as we see what happens in those other cities.

Pro Gas

5 Reasons Top Chefs Prefer Gas Cooktops

  1. Response Speed
  2. Easier to Control
  3. Usability with Varied Cookware
  4. Simple to Clean
  5. Inexpensive Maintenance

None of which appear to be the case.

Pro Electric

Professional Chefs Love Induction Cooking and You Should Too

Many of the world’s top chefs are induction cooking enthusiasts. Surprised? Professional cooks known for their mastery of the gas flame are adopting glass-ceramic induction cooktops, and not only because they are considered the environmentally friendly alternative to electric or gas stoves.

“Powerful, immediate, precise, effective, practical – here in a few words are the qualities of induction,” says Author/Chef Thierry Molinengo of the Cristal Room Baccarat restaurant in Paris.

“I love our big induction range —  I’d never go back to gas,” declares James Ramsden, food writer and co-proprietor of the Michelin-starred East London restaurant Pidgin.

According to the UK Vice food site Munchies, London’s Top Chefs Are All Cooking on £99 Induction Hobs now.

”Once you get the hang of them, they’re far easier than cooking on gas or electric.” James Lowe of a Michelin starred restaurant thinks that a lot of it has to do with finally getting over snobbery.

Can Chefs Learn to Love Cooking Without Fire? – Mother Jones

A push to electrify buildings suggests the end is nigh for gas ranges.

The People’s Republic of Berkeley, population 120,000, is on the vanguard here, but it’s not alone. LA Mayor Eric Garcetti recently released a plan to convert all of the city’s buildings to carbon-neutral technology by 2050, which could require all home and commercial cooking appliances to go electric, the Los Angeles Times reported. About 60 other California cities are considering “building code measures to promote electric appliances as a way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” reports Inside Climate News. Meanwhile, last week, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed into law an ambitious climate plan that could phase out gas hookups by 2050.

Induction range-tops, however, are more expensive. At Home Depot, a gas range and oven set starts at around $550, while a similar induction set is at least $1,000. At the mid range, a Bosch five-burner gas range goes for around $2,400, while a comparable induction model goes for $3,000. According to Bruce Nilles, managing director of the Rocky Mountain Institute—who co-authored a recent New York Times op-ed making the case for electrifying everything in the home—US prices for induction ranges are about twice those of the United Kingdom, where the technology is much more popular. If ordinances like Berkeley’s take hold, prices will likely plunge to UK levels, he wrote.

Neutral

Nov 22, 2019 — Each type of range has its strengths, and they’re not what you might assume. In most cases, electric ranges outperform their gas counterparts. But there are exceptions to almost every rule, and that’s certainly the case here. Within our range ratings, you’ll find plenty of models that earn top scores in each test we perform, regardless of fuel source.

From Well to Kitchen

Apr 9, 2012 — The problem starts when unburned gas gets into the atmosphere. Leaks and releases occur throughout the natural gas supply chain, but no one is sure exactly where the leaks and releases are or how much escapes. If not better mitigated, methane leaks and releases could undermine the greenhouse gas advantage natural gas offers and spell major trouble for the climate.

Methane emissions – Methane | Climate & Clean Air Coalition

Recent research suggests that the contribution of methane emissions to global warming is 25% higher than previous estimates. Methane is a key precursor gas of the harmful air pollutant, tropospheric ozone. Globally, increased methane emissions are responsible for half of the observed rise in tropospheric ozone levels.

Methane facts and information – National Geographic

Jan 23, 2019 — Since the Industrial Revolution, methane concentrations in the atmosphere have more than doubled, and about 20 percent of the warming the planet has experienced can be attributed to the gas.

Environmental Impacts of Natural Gas | Union of Concerned Scientists

One recent study found that methane losses must be kept below 3.2 percent for natural gas power plants to have lower life cycle emissions than new coal plants over short time frames of 20 years or fewer.

Overview of Greenhouse Gases — EPA

Methane (CH4): Methane is emitted during the production and transport of coal, natural gas, and oil. Methane emissions also result from livestock and other agricultural practices and by the decay of organic waste in municipal solid waste landfills.

May 11, 2018 — The greenhouse gas, methane, is produced by both natural processes and human activities. While there has been much attention paid to curbing anthropogenic emissions, a changing climate will likely increase the production of natural methane. In an open access article recently published in Reviews of GeophysicsDean et al. [2018] describe the ways in which biological, geochemical, and physical systems influence methane concentrations and explore how methane levels in natural systems may alter in a warming climate.

Methane (CH4) is a greenhouse gas that is much stronger than carbon dioxide (CO2), 34 times stronger if compared over a 100-year period. While concentrations of methane in the atmosphere are about 200 times lower than carbon dioxide, methane was responsible for 60% of the equivalent radiative forcing caused by carbon dioxide since the onset of the Industrial Revolution. Methane’s presence in the atmosphere can also affect the abundance of other greenhouse gases, such as ozone (O3), water vapor (H2O), and carbon dioxide.

According to the EPA Inventory of U.S Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks: 1990–2015 report, 2015 methane emissions from natural gas and petroleum systems totaled 8.1 Tg per year in the United States. Individually, the EPA estimates that the natural gas system emitted 6.5 Tg per year of methane while petroleum systems emitted 1.6 Tg per year of methane.[71] Methane emissions occur in all sectors of the natural gas industry, from drilling and production, through gathering and processing and transmission, to distribution. These emissions occur through normal operation, routine maintenance, fugitive leaks, system upsets, and venting of equipment. In the oil industry, some underground crude contains natural gas that is entrained in the oil at high reservoir pressures. When oil is removed from the reservoir, associated gas is produced.

However, a review of methane emissions studies reveals that the EPA Inventory of Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks: 1990–2015 report likely significantly underestimated 2015 methane emissions from the oil and natural gas supply chain. The review concluded that in 2015 the oil and natural gas supply chain emitted 13 Tg per year of methane, which is about 60% more than the EPA report for the same time period. The authors write that the most likely cause for the discrepancy is an under sampling by the EPA of so-called “abnormal operating conditions”, during which large quantities of methane can be emitted.[72]

(Crossposted at DailyKos.)

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