Thursday, July 30, 2009

Green kitchen - another way to spend your green

Now that they quit the punk station on Sirius, the only station I listen to is Martha Stewart Radio and NPR, which probably means I am lame in more ways than I can count. Or maybe it's not me that's lame - I am really getting tired of them playing Tom Petty on every channel they can. But my hatred of Tom Petty will have to wait for another post, because I have to write about green kitchen. The other day on MS Radio, they had a guest named Kate Keyhoe on that was pimping her new book, which was something about cooking green, so I had to give it a listen.

I recently turned the volume down to zero because "Last Dance With Mary Jane" was just on. If my car radio had a knob that went less than zero, like Spinal Tap's amp gain that went to eleven, that would really make me a happy woman. That way I could make sure no Tom Petty ever hit the old ear tympani. But this kind of kitchen talk piqued my interest, so, like Lynyrd Skynyrd reminds us often on many Sirius channels, I "turned it up". I figured for sure the gal was going to tell me to start cooking in a solar oven, which is about the most preposterous thing I could ever think of to do, unless I was backpacking in Nepal or something and trying to rehydrate some dehydrated lentils. Evidently it's only $289 to energy independence! (+ shipping!)

Thankfully, she didn't suggest the solar oven, but some of the stuff she was saying just didn't add up. She called the oven the "Humvee of the kitchen". I knew she and I were going to have math issues. I'm an engineer, math is my life. Is the oven really the Humvee of the kitchen? Time to sharpen the pencils, ladies and gut is telling me that the "Humvee of the kitchen" has got to be the fridge, but that's probably not fair to the old icebox. The biggest energy use in your house is for heating and cooling, which accounts for 44% of all energy consumption. So instead of worrying about energy use in your kitchen, your time would be better spent thinking about insulation and better windows.

The big energy user in your kitchen is indeed the fridge. Per the California Energy Commission, refrigerators and freezers consume about a sixth of all electricity in a typical American home - using more electricity than any other single household appliance.

According to the US Department of Energy, here is how a typical household’s energy consumption breaks down:

Heating and cooling 44%
Water heating 13%
Lighting 12%
Refrigeration 8%
Home electronics 6%
Laundry appliances 5%
Kitchen appliances 4%
Other uses 8%

Okay, so why pick on your poor oven? The author suggests using a toaster oven instead, which would require me buying something, in addition to me buying her book. The fact of the matter is that a toaster oven costs more to use, too. Check out this chart. It would cost me more money in energy costs to use a toaster oven instead of firing up my entire gas oven. If you are really worried about that, how about starting an "oven pool"? Like a carpool, you could pop another dish in the oven "for the ride" while you are baking something. Or when you are baking something, always make two. I try to do this anyway, so I can freeze one for later.

The bottom line? I'm not going to feel guilty for baking, I have a gas oven. Even if you have an electric oven, don't fret. Remember, the reason why we have "the grid" is because being on one is always going to be more efficient than than being "off the grid". (thank you Thomas Edison, inventor of the grid). If it makes you feel better about it, start calling the grid "socialized energy". Because that's exactly what it is. It's energy for everyone - both the rich and the poor. Everyone gets it relatively cheap. Learn to love the grid! And get some better insulation and windows, please! I know it isn't as fun as cooking, but it would go a long way toward a more earth friendly existence.

FYI, it would take me over 5 years of baking something every day in a $289 solar oven, just to break even. And I live in Michigan, with it's share of cloudy days and 6 months of nonsummer, so make that 10 years. I won't be buying a solar oven anytime soon, or a toaster oven, either. But I might try to fashion a solar oven out of a box or something one day, just for fun. I'm wondering if a cake baked in a solar oven will end up tasting like a cake out of an Easy Bake oven? An experiment is on order....


Kate said...

I love it when the engineer in you comes out and takes on some of the green blather! I'm all for intelligent green reporting, but some of the folks out there are making assertions (like this one) which are clearly based on NO DATA.

I think you can make a solar oven for pretty cheap which strikes me as the reasonable reason to take this course (and as a bit of a DIYer, I can see the appeal of goofing around with it); buying one just feeds into our un-green desires to purchase more stuff.

Anonymous said...

I'm pissed they took away the old school rap station.

I haven't yet used my solar oven. It was fun to make and it's nice to have, but I'm not sure when I'll use it!

Kitchen Chick said...

Energy use can vary widely by specific models. I wonder how close my monster oven matches up to the generic gas oven in their chart.

I think you'll find this site interesting, too. It has info on how much power our electronics use when not technically turned on: