Cooking with Efficiency

Bit-by-bit, with each new energy efficient technology, it’s becoming possible to considerably reduce the energy consumed in our homes. (Provided people buy these technologies or builders include them in new homes or renovations.)

Starting with the building envelope – the structure itself – homes with thick walls with lots of insulation, along with correct ventilation, and tight, insulated windows and doors, the energy load on heating and air conditioning systems can be reduced.

Those heating and air conditioning systems, too, have gotten steadily more efficient with each new generation or government mandate.

Water heating has become more energy efficient with on-demand heaters or now hybrid heaters that use heat pump technology. Of course solar water heating is a mature technology and very popular in parts of the world; not so much in the U.S.

Lighting, once dominated by inefficient incandescent light bulbs is being replaced by compact fluorescent bulbs, LEDs and now very efficient incandescent bulbs. The kind folks at Philips have sent me a package of their EcoVantage bulbs that use 28 percent less electricity and meet the efficiency requirements of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007. The company, which is selling the bulbs exclusively at Home Depot, says that if 115 million households replaced one traditional 100-Watt incandescent bulb with a similar-in-light-output 72-Watt EcoVantage bulb for 3 hours a day, the equivalent power generated by three, 1000 Megawatt power plants would no longer be needed.

There’s energy saving in the kitchen as well. A microwave oven saves energy by cooking some types of food more quickly than a conventional oven. A convection oven that circulates hot air within the cavity of oven itself can speed up cooking time thus saving energy too. And for those who a really want the all-natural experience, solar cookers can bake a chicken without any power or fuel at all.

But cooking with pots and pans on a range is an energy challenge. Heat from a gas or electric burner not only heats a pot but the kitchen as well.

Yet there’s an energy-saving way to fry an egg or cook some stew that is largely unknown in the U.S.

General Electric, which has been working to develop a wide array of clean energy technologies from wind turbines to solar panels, would now like to see pancakes and sausage, spaghetti and sauce, and a grilled cheese sandwich cooked more energy efficiently. To do so the company is helping to market induction cooking in North America with the launch of Induction101.com, a new educational website about cooking without a hot burner. The new site gets its name from the high-speed performance of induction cook tops, which can boil a quart of water in approximately 101 seconds while remaining comfortably cool to the touch, making them faster, more efficient and safer than gas or electric.

The company says in a press release, “Although popular in European and Asian households and among professional chefs worldwide, induction cooking is still largely a mystery for many North American consumers.”

Further, GE says that the “launch of the new site coincides with its increased focus on energy-efficient solutions. Induction cooking is considered to be the most energy-efficient cook top technology available today. GE testing shows that about 84 percent of the energy produced by its induction elements goes directly to cooking, as compared to approximately 38 percent for gas and 73 percent for electric. Induction cooking wastes less energy through ambient heat loss, which dramatically increases cooking speed, precision and efficiency. For many advocates, the hyper-efficiency of induction cooking, coupled with its cleanliness and safety advantages make it the best technology for the future of cooking.”

GE describes induction cooking in the release:

“With induction cooking, a current is produced when a steel or iron bottom pan is placed on the cook top, which has an electromagnetic element under its smooth surface. The current passes through the cook top and heats the pan and cooks the food inside. Nearly all the energy is transferred directly to the magnetic cookware and the food, making induction cooking quick and efficient. Because there is no residual heat from burners, cooking adjustments are nearly instantaneous and precise.

“The nonmagnetic cook surface, which doesn’t generate heat, stays cool. No heat is transferred to any nonferrous object, such as plastic, paper, cloth, spilled food, or a hand that touches the cooking area – even if the element is turned on. This creates a cooler and safer cooking environment that is easy to clean.”

GE is not alone in offering induction cooking in the U.S. Kenmore, Electrolux, Thermador, KitchenAid are other brands that offer the technology.

So, progress is being made to reduce energy consumption in homes in most household functions. What’s the next technological challenge? Drying clothes.

(I know what you’re thinking, a clothesline for solar and wind drying can replace a gas or electric dryer. But, mechanical dryers have become common companions with washing machines in homes. It would be a hard sell to convince people that we need to go back to the days of hanging our unmentionables on a string in the back yard for the world to see. I don’t think an energy efficient dryer has been invented. Now’s your chance inventors.)

by Bruce Mulliken, Green Energy News

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