Going electric in the kitchen. Clockwise from top left: basic electric coil stove; milk boiler; induction cooktop; microwave oven; smart cooker
Can electricity take the place of LPG?

By Anand Parthasarathy
July 17, 2023: An inflection point was reached  in 2021, when the price of an LPG domestic cylinder crossed Rs 860. A study by the  Officers’ Association of the Kerala State Electricity Board   revealed that for those consuming up to 300 units of electricity every  month, it would work out cheaper to switch to  electric alternatives like induction cookers. Those who use one LPG cylinder per month for cooking need only four units of electricity per day. Studies in other states came to a similar conclusion.
A few days ago, the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE)  organized  an online discussion to explore various challenges to adoption of e-cooking in rural and urban India and what regulatory frameworks need to be adopted to encourage its  usage across all social and economic classes in the country.
The discussion had a sense of urgency for multiple reasons:
A third of the world’s population  or nearly  2.4 billion people still lacks access to clean cooking solutions, which in turn does  damage to the climate, local economies and public health. Globally,  some 2.3 million people die  every year because of indoor air pollution – mostly due to wood-based cooking.
The scenario is no different in India where according to the National Sample Survey Office (NSSO), about 120 million (12 Crore) households  making for  over 56% of households in rural India, and around 15% of urban India, still use some form of kerosene or biomass to cook food.  Some 600,000 premature deaths every year in India  are attributed to Indoor Air Pollution.
Successive governments have addressed the issue and have tried to encourage cleaner cooking fuel adoption  -- from the Rajiv Gandhi Gram LPG Vitrak Yojana (RGGLV scheme) of 2009 to the  Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana (PMUY) of 2016.
Over 10 Crore households  are currently covered by PMUY. And according to the Petroleum Planning & Analysis Cell (PPAC)  LPG used by  some 30 crore households. Toilet-Linked-Biogas cookstoves   have been in use since the 1960s but  as the CEE webinar revealed, most of the 5 million  biogas plants in villages are not functioning anymore.
Sadly none of these well meaning  schemes have succeeded in completely switching to cleaner cooking fuels.  Reasons include a lack of strong LPG distribution networks in rural areas; the high price of LPG refills and  the sustained withdrawal of  subsidy. The price of LPG for domestic consumption has tripled in the last eight years.
As a result, says Noble Varghese, Deputy Programme Manager (Renewable Energy) at CSE, over half the households under the  PMUY scheme have not refilled their LPG cylinders and  approximately  50 million beneficiaries still use biomass as primary fuel. Approximateoy 10% of urban and 57% of rural Indian households primarily rely on solid fuels – particularly in Eastern India states like Odisha, Jharkhand & Bihar where  over half  of all households use solid fuels as primary cooking fuel.
Varghese suggests that considering the high prices of oil and gas – the  import bill  is in the region of $13 Billion every year and constitutes a tenth of India’s energy imports – LPG, a fossil fuel heavily import-dependent, cannot be the only clean cooking option for the country in the coming decades. India’s net-zero emission by 2070 ambitions needs another alternative.  The country’s   resolve to meet the  UN Sustainable Development Goal SDG 7  and to  provide clean cooking  fuels for all by 2030, is an even more pressing deadline.
Is electric cooking viable?
Electric Cooking (e-Cooking), with benefits like improved indoor air quality, is an attractive direction for the country’s clean cooking efforts. Recent policy announcements making provisions for subsidy on induction cookstoves are also clear signals of governments thinking in this regard.
Says Sunil Mani, Programme Lead, Centre for Energy, Environment and Water: At current LPG prices of around  Rs 1,100 for  a 14.2 kg LPG refill,  eCooking will be cheaper than LPG for  households who pay for electricity at less than Rs 9 per unit.
The initial investment in induction  stoves  and  suitable  utensils could set you back Rs 4000. This is a barrier  and   consequently  85% of all the eCooking users belong to the  urban upper middle class. It is also significant that in states where electric tariffs are lower – like Delhi and Tamil Nadu – adoption of e-Cooking has been faster.
So clearly pushing  urban consumers  who enjoy  more reliable electricity to make a switch to e-cooking is a less daunting challenge for the government. The thrust  can start there, though electric cooking has as yet not achieved the economics of scale anywhere.
Experts agree that   for rural India where the government has  already made  a big  investment in promoting LPG under PMUY, the first step may be to restore subsidies so that LPG refills  are perceived as good value and are available for less than Rs 500.    Where  and when rural electric grids are more ubiquitous and reliable, it will be the time to encourage household to switch from LPG  to e-cooking, not before
Electricity in the kitchen
Electric cooking is an omnibus term that includes induction cook tops, electric rice cookers, toasters, mixer-grinders and electric kettles.
According to a market survey in India this year by  Deutsche Gesellschaft  Fur  Internationale Zusammenarbeit  ( GIZ),the German Development Agency, reported by  their Delhi-based adviser, Florian Postel, induction cooktops are seeing the  highest demand in   South India -- Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Kerala – and the west -- Maharashtra, Gujarat and Rajasthan.   The sweet spot seems to be  1200 watt and 2000 watt  and the price ranges from Rs 1800 to Rs 4000.
Leading brands include Prestige,  Butterfly, Preethi, Panasonic Bajaj Electricals, Stovekraft, Philips, and Havells with WonderChef  and Borosil, among  more recent entrants
What is Induction cooking?
Induction cooking  involves the  induction heating of cooking vessels, rather than relying on indirect radiation, convection, or thermal conduction.
A cooking vessel with a suitable base is placed on an induction stove which has a heat-proof glass-ceramic surface above a coil of copper wire with a low radio frequency alternating electric current passing through it. The resulting oscillating electromagnetic field induces an electrical current in the vessel. This large eddy current flowing through the resistance of a thin layer of metal in the base of the vessel results in resistive heating.
A cooking vessel must be made of, or contain, a ferrous metal such as cast iron or some stainless steels. The iron in the pot concentrates the current to produce heat in the metal. (Source: Wikipedia)
Consumers tend to compare the total cost of ownership (TCO) of an induction cooktop against  the cost of using unsubsidized LPG.  Piped  Natural Gas (PNG) is slightly cheaper but availability even in metros  is rather thin.  As things stand, LPG  wins over induction,  but  if  cooking gas prices continue to grow , the value proposition of an electric option will  look brighter.
Many urban households who can afford the initial asking price of an induction cooking device, tend to hedge their bets – retaining their LPGF stove and shifting some of their cooking to induction.
Induction  appliances have the added attraction of being  currently the  best electricity-driven  technology for the kitchen scoring  over  older  electric rice cookers.  The latter still compete in the Indian kitchen with that sturdy nonelectric  mainstay:  the pressure cooker.
Also popular in cities is the Microwave Oven whose basic function of rapid reheating has expanded to enable other kitchen operations like baking, by adding features like convection heating.
A microwave oven heats and cooks food by exposing it to electromagnetic radiation in the microwave frequency range. This induces polar molecules in the food to rotate and produce thermal energy in a process known as dielectric heating.
But the asking price of a microwave oven -- Rs 10,000 plus  for a 20 litre model--  makes this a specialty device and not a factor in the debate of what technology  works best in the kitchen.
A milk boiler  is another staple in Indian kitchens. But though electric models have started appearing,  most households go for the non-electric whistling type, preferring to place it on a gas or induction stove.
The key findings at the CEE online seminar can be found among the  three presentations  linked here.
Other experts agree
CEE is not alone in advocating a shift to electric cooking.  A year ago in an opinion piece in Economic Times,  Professor Jyoti Parikh, Executive Director, Integrated Research and Action for Development  (IRADe), New  Delhi says: “What needs to be done to introduce electric cooking as a serious option is not as demanding as the  PM Ujjwala scheme but there are many challenges.”
Her suggestions are similar to the ones mooted at the CEE --  strengthen the power system for 24x7 electricity;  continue efforts for LPG or piped gas  but  continue comparison  with electricity options
She also suggests consideration of solar cooking as a possible third option. 
Her conclusion is  worth repeating: “Both gas and electricity may  be beyond the reach of the very poor in the near term till more or all people get out of poverty. But we are faced with sustainability issues for even the middle or lower middle class, and an alternative to excessive reliance on gas or LPG should be ready at hand.”

This article has appeared in Swarajya