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Achyuth Punnekat
Sunday , October 07, 2012 at 18 : 23

Kerala Power Board's Induction-phobia Is A Joke


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Of all the harebrained schemes I've ever heard in my life (and trust me, I cook up many myself), this one probably deserves a citation and a plaque.

The Kerala State Electricity Board, it appears, has decided that induction cookers are the new enemy. The local media is abuzz with reports that the KSEB plans to curb their use. Apparently, working women are growing in Kerala. And they are relying heavily on these easy to use, and fast, cooktops. It has (apparently) added 500 MW more demand in just one year.

Thanks to a less-than-favourable monsoon this year, KSEB is feeling the pinch. It has had to start load shedding, power cuts are back, and there has been a fairly steep hike in electricity tariffs so that the loss-making enterprise can at least purchase costlier power from Naphtha-based power plants like the one in Kayamkulam. In the event, the concern about rising consumption and falling generation is quite understandable.

But, to blame it on one specific household item seems a bit asinine.

What the KSEB seems to have failed to take into account is the non-availability of (cheap) cooking gas in the state. The Centre's decision to cap subsidised LPG cylinders has hit people hard. After an LPG tanker blew up in Kannur last month, truckers refused to transport LPG in bulk to bottling plants in Kerala, hitting supply to consumers. Add to that was the mishap at the IOC plant in Udayamperur which forced its temporary closure. This has resulted in an acute shortage of LPG cylinders, and if the opposition is to be believed, hoarding by some unscrupulous gas agencies.

In such a scenario, the KSEB's move to clamp down on alternative cooking technologies is frankly draconian. As one Malayalam television channel asks, "Should an electricity shortage mean we are left hungry too?"

The KSEB seems to have ignored the fact that induction cookers are far more energy efficient than gas hobs. Water is boiled in 'a snap', as NY Times puts it. Induction cookers work by transferring heat directly on to the pan. So it gives a more even heating and therefore shorter cooking time. The most reliable efficiency figures I could find was this study by the US Department of Energy which states that induction cooktops typically have an efficiency of 84 per cent and gas stoves 40 per cent. It's a no brainer. Also, induction cannot work if the pan is not on the cooker. That means an auto cut off system that will save energy.

Now, an energy comparison. For fairness, I have taken technical specifications from the gas and induction models of an Indian manufacturer Sunflame. (Clarification: This doesn't mean I'm getting paid by Sunflame. I wish I were, but I'm not.) Also for easy comparison, I have converted energy output to the standard British Thermal Units (BTU). A BTU is the amount of energy needed to heat 1 pound of water by 1 degree Fahrenheit (I'm moderately proud that I took the effort of googling that one!)

The smaller burner in a gas stove uses 143 grams (per hour) of LPG to provide about 1555 kilocalories (per hour) of energy. 1kcal/hr is equal to 3.965 BTU/hr. That means, for every 143 grams of gas burned, the stove produces an energy output of 6165.575 BTU.

Now for the induction cooker. Most standalone induction cookers available in India come with power consumption ranging from 300 to 2000 Watts. In electrical appliances energy is calculated in kilowatt hours (kWh). So assuming the induction cooker operates for one hour at an average setting of 1000W, it should produce 1 kWh of energy. 1 kWh is equal to 3412.142 BTU.

Fair enough. Prima facie the lowest setting on a gas stove produces more energy in an equal amount of time (one hour). But the devil is in the efficiencies.

As mentioned earlier, a typical gas stove only transfers about 40 percent of the energy on to the cooking pan. That means only 2466.23 BTU is used to heat the food. On the other hand induction cooktops have an efficiency of 84 percent. That means a transferred energy of 2866.20 BTU! An induction cooker, therefore clearly does a better job.

Induction cookers have also proven to be safer than a gas stove. Their main problem is an over-reliance on Kerala's (unreliable) power company. Oh well, can't be helped.

Perhaps in blaming induction cooktops KSEB is acknowledging a changing Kerala where efficient appliances (another example is the microwave) are becoming popular. Not because of any government effort, or a tree-hugging mentality, but by the sheer power of growing consumerism. The public sector behemoth, once plagued by ineptness, should encourage this instead of cutting the branch it is sitting on. Streamlining consumption, saving energy, would help it tide over the impending power consumption-generation gap.

The KSEB blaming working women is also laughable. Cheers to the 'chechis' (elder sister) who are now driving autos, working at petrol pumps, collecting tickets on buses and still running their homes and cooking for their kids... the real heroes of another silent revolution in God's Own Country.


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