Shortage of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) or the common cooking gas is often the first thing people worry about in times of crisis. Recently, just before the government announced a nationwide lockdown to control the spread of Covid-19, people rushed to nearby depots to refill or buy gas cylinders. That led to a shortage of LPG.
Nepal Electricity Authority CEO Kulman Ghising has been urging people to use induction stoves/cooktops instead. There is apparently enough electricity for their greater use.
Many folks had also opted for induction stoves when there was another major LPG shortage during the 2015-16 blockade.
Between LPG and induction stoves, people are still unsure which is more convenient and cheaper. Most families still use LGP, although the use of induction stoves is rising too. Moreover, the government is planning to remove subsidy on LPG and subsidize electricity instead. Last week, it announced 25 percent discount on electricity bills for domestic consumers using up to 150 units. With these developments, induction stoves could gradually replace LPG cylinders.
Electricity is an environmentally friendly and relatively cheaper energy source. Though LPG emits less carbon and other greenhouse gases, it is not altogether clean. An induction stove is cleaner still as it doesn’t release any greenhouse gas.
“Less carbon will be emitted if we start using induction stoves instead of LPG. The supply of electricity has improved as well with many big and small hydropower projects coming into operation,” says Bindu Dev Koirala, a hydro engineer and postgraduate in environmental sciences. Koirala reckons replacing LPG with induction stoves is a viable option, if a few loopholes in electricity supply can be removed. “For instance, electricity is still in short supply in winter months when people use electrical devices like heaters.”
Reducing national burden
Every year, Nepal spends billions of rupees to import LPG from India. Last year alone, it had imported LPG worth Rs 32.9 billion. Its replacement could thus greatly reduce the country’s trade deficit. “Induction stoves are easy to use, and they come with amazing temperature control systems. For instance, when we boil milk on them, the milk doesn’t spill over as the temperature is controlled automatically,” adds Koirala.
Research suggests induction cooking is significantly more efficient compared to LPG. Food cooked with induction conserves approximately 90 of the heat compared to 50 percent in the case of LPG. Further, induction stoves reduce the risk of burns and accidental fires as there is no open flame.
“I have been using an induction stove since the Indian blockade. Cooking on it is faster and more efficient. It is easy to clean too. We don’t get electric shocks even if something spills over,” says Vishal Gautam, a resident of Pokhara. “Thankfully, the quality of electricity is stable nowadays. The voltage is stable at 200V and there are no power cuts.”
Unlike a flame or an electrical heating wire, induction stoves heat via electrical induction. First, you have to ensure that the cooking vessel is of ferromagnetic metal. Copper or aluminum vessel doesn’t work until they have an additional layer of magnetic material. To check, see if a magnet will stick to the bottom of the vessel.
When the power is on, electric current creates a magnetic field throughout the vessel. Fluctuation in the field makes electric current pass through the vessel, dissipating some of energy in the form of heat. In this way, the vessel is heated.
Despite the benefits, people seem concerned about the price of induction cookers and electricity charges. “I don’t think induction stoves are cheap. Just look at the current electricity tariffs and the power these stoves consume,” says Gautam, the Pokhara resident.
The costs of induction stoves range from Rs 3,000 to Rs 7,000. But monthly electricity bills are the real pain for middle and lower-income families. On top of that, electricity meters are often outdated. For people living in rented rooms and paying electricity bills by the faulty sub-meters, using induction stoves may come at a high cost.
“We could use induction cookers only if the landlord agrees to install a new sub-meter. Otherwise, it will only increase our financial burden,” says Ganesh Karki from Morang, who currently rents a flat in Kathmandu.
A 2017 World Bank survey suggests a multi-pronged approach to make households adopt clean fuel systems such as electric stoves.
As a promotion, the government has recently waived off customs duty on the import of induction stoves. According to customs data, around 700,000 of them have been imported to date. But these stoves are available only in urban centers.
But as per popular demand, the NEA must lower the rate of electricity and subsidize induction cooktops.
“Besides subsidizing electricity, there should be discounts on the purchase of induction stoves. They obviously have to be cheaper for more people to start using them,” adds Koirala, the hydro engineer.