GBCA’s TRANSFORM: Big US tech companies can cook without gas and so can the Bank of China with meals for 1000 staff. So what’s stopping the rest of us?
The electrification of buildings is a vital step towards decarbonising our economy because methane is a more powerful greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. For property owners and developers, removing gas will also help boost the green credentials of their buildings.
Unfortunately, kitchen appliances often stand in the way of removing natural gas from many buildings.
At the forefront of the shift is commercial kitchen consultancy Mack Group Australia, which has worked on a number of major electrification projects. These include the Bank of China’s South Australian head office, which prepares meals for around 1000 staff, and the Australian headquarters of a major US tech giant.
Mack Group director Nisha Ghantwal last week shared some of the challenges and opportunities that come from electrifying kitchens in Green Building Council of Australia’s Transform conference in Sydney.
Not a new technology
While some people find it difficult to imagine a commercial kitchen without gas, Ms Ghantwal said that perception is false. “There have always been kitchens where there hasn’t been gas.
“We’ve worked on airport projects where gas is not safe for the building. The kitchens in airports have always been electric. We have worked on projects where electricity is not available due to the locations … Large pastry kitchens have always [used] induction.”
Safety is another reason, because in places such as schools and aged care, gas burners are a risk.
Induction cooking appliances have been around for a long time and are in use in most commercial kitchens, Ms Ghantwal added.
“There used to be gas dishwashers, but 100 per cent of dishwashers now are electric. In terms of cooking, ovens, griddles, salamanders, all these main cooking equipment are available in gas as well as electric models. [They have a] similar capacity, similar performance, there’s no difference.”
Three big challenges with electric
There are three main areas where replacing gas appliances with electric induction appliances can pose challenges.
“One is the barbecue, because the product that comes out of the electric barbecue is drier and that’s been a challenge. But there is technology now to use steam to add that moisture back that has been quite successful,” Ms Ghantwal said.
The next area that’s problematic is burners. “That’s a bit of a challenge, because [chefs are] not used to the instant heat induction provides, [but they are used to the] instant control with gas. All that can be overcome with a little bit of training—it’s about education.”
This leaves Asian cooking and woks. Again induction is possible, with the Australian headquarters of a major US tech company operating a “huge kitchen” with no gas. “There’s an induction wok in there as well, so there are possibilities.”
Despite the obstacles, there are big benefits to making the transition to all-electric kitchens, such as lower air conditioning costs.
“As anybody who has changed from gas to induction in their homes knows, the main difference that you notice is the heat. When you’re cooking, you’re standing in front of the stove, you’re not getting the heat. [Close to] 100 per cent efficiency in cooking is achieved with induction,” Ms Ghantwal said.
The other benefit is cleaning. No more fiddly washing and scraping of metal parts. It’s just a flat surface that can be wiped clean.
Price is another issue. But even though induction cooktops can cost three times more than an equivalent gas stove, the costs balance out over the total cost of a commercial kitchen fit out.
First you don’t need large high powered exhaust hoods in a commercial kitchen, which can be a very expensive piece of equipment and then there is the ducting and the costs of installing plumbing. “It kind of pays back to your induction straight away.”
Getting out of the gas mindset
Given existing technology and the benefits of induction cooking, perhaps the biggest hurdle standing in the way of electrifying most commercial kitchens is persuading chefs to make the shift.
A big part of it is “chefs talking to chefs”, but also seeing induction demonstrated so they can see how it works, Ms Ghantwal said.
“I think we need to start with the schools. We are working in food technology schools and changing the gas to electric. So in a few years time, when the new chefs graduate, they will be used to working with induction. They wouldn’t want gas because they have seen the benefits.”
Article edited on 30 March to remove the name of the major US tech company, due to commercial confidentiality reasons.