This winter, I’ve been corresponding with a Cuban colleague who works for Cuba Energia, an energy information center in Cuba. He tells me that the Government has decided to introduce modern, efficient induction cooking to the country by offering 125,000 units for sale to residents countrywide. So, why should we be interested in what Cuba is doing?
People who live on islands tend to have a better handle on the concept of finite resources in general. But after the collapse of Soviet Union, their main trade ally, and due to the ever intensifying US blockade, Cubans had to learn how to produce basic requirements such as food, medicines, and energy, both locally and sustainably. In the spring of 2011 I had the opportunity to travel to Cuba with a group of energy professionals to see first-hand how they were managing these efforts. Read more about this in The Homeowner’s Energy Handbook.
Due to the hardships endured, the Cuban people were able to reduce their energy consumption by about 50 percent over a four year period. This was not necessarily an altruistic goal, but one of necessity, and ultimately an effort that brought the island nation together as a large community. They learned some hard lessons that the rest of us can use to our advantage. The Cuban government made efficient products available to everyone for free or at much reduced prices, including lights, refrigerators, pressure cookers, and bicycles. And now, possibly, induction cook stoves.
Induction cook stoves have no heating element and so do not get hot. They work by generating a high frequency (20 to 60 kilohertz) electric current, and inducing a magnetic field into the cookware itself. The metallic cookware receiving this induced energy is essentially the second “conductor” in this electromagnetic “circuit”, and the internal resistance of the cookware is what creates the heat. The type of pots and pans you use will have an effect on efficiency, and only cookware with iron in it will work with today’s induction cook tops. If in doubt, check the pot or pan in question with a magnet. If it’s magnetic, it should work well with induction cooking.
The lack of a conventional and relatively inefficient heating element or burner makes kitchens safer and cooler. Users report faster heating times, and because the cookware itself becomes the source of heat for the food it contains, more even heating can be expected. Other benefits include easy to clean surfaces, precision temperature control, and very low temperature settings. If you use a pressure cooker, beware that using an induction cook top requires some modifications to your approach.
Induction cook stoves are still relatively expensive and so not yet very popular except in high end home and commercial kitchens. Finding good energy use information is difficult, as I’ve not yet seen any high quality studies on energy consumption comparisons; perhaps the first will come from Cuba. Anecdotal evidence from users suggests that they are quite fast at heating, but the induction elements have the same power requirements as conventional electric ranges. This combination suggests higher efficiency and lower cooking costs, but one older study indicates marginal efficiency improvements over conventional electric stoves (84% vs 74% energy transfer efficiency). Savings estimates may be further reduced due to standby loads that will vary with the type and brand. Commercial kitchens may enjoy the benefit of much reduced space cooling requirements, something no chef or restaurant accountant would complain about!
One concern that does not seem to be resolved yet is the potential health risk of stray magnetic fields which can occur if the pot does not completely cover the induction unit. The risk can range from interference with pacemakers to exceeding human EMF exposure limits.
I’ll be keeping in touch with Cuba Energia, and hope to report back in the future as to the outcome of Cuba’s efficient cooking program.
Paul Scheckel is the author of The Homeowner’s Energy Handbook, your guide to getting off the grid”.
Photo from Newsroom.Electrolux.com