Household electrification plays a significant role in reducing carbon emissions and could also improve household air quality. In both developed and developing countries, the effectiveness of specific electrification policies remains a crucial open question.
A new study suggests that switching from gas to electric stoves can reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and health care costs faster than previously thought if the power grid is green.
The study, released in August 2023, investigates the effects of an electrification scheme in Ecuador that installed induction stoves in 750,000 families. According to the researchers, greenhouse gas emissions and hospitalization rates at the national level likely decreased “in lockstep” with increased adoption and usage of induction stoves over the program’s first six years.
Lead author Carlos Gould, who worked on the study as a postdoctoral scholar in the lab of Marshall Burke, an environmental economist at the Stanford Doerr School of Sustainability, said, “Our study expands the growing body of evidence suggesting that gas to electric transitions when the grid is green, can achieve both climate and health benefits. Ecuador is a remarkable case study for this kind of large-scale transition.”
The new study provides one of the first large-scale evaluations of this type of program in action at a time when household electrification programs are being developed or implemented worldwide because of expected impacts on pollution and health.
Gould, who is now an assistant professor at the Herbert Wertheim School of Public Health and Human Longevity Science at the University of California San Diego, said, “Residential electrification programs that aim to either ensure that new buildings do not install gas lines or to incentivize the replacement of gas appliances with electric ones are already happening in communities such as San Francisco or are targeted in the near- to medium-term future in Boston and New York City Housing Authority buildings.”
Several countries, including the Netherlands, Australia, Nepal, and Indonesia, are trying to switch their families to electric cooking. Policies or programs encouraging decarbonization may have immediate and significant population health advantages. Between 2015 and 2021, incentives from Ecuador’s “program for efficient cooking” encouraged one out of every ten Ecuadorian families to adopt induction stoves.
According to the new study, the program increased home electricity usage by 5% while decreasing liquid petroleum gas consumption by 7.5%. The program was shown to have reduced greenhouse gas emissions by a net 7% from 2015 to 2021 while hydroelectricity powered the grid.
The researchers examined 9.6 million hospitalizations in Ecuador between January 2012, before the electrification initiative began, and March 2020, when it was ultimately implemented. Researchers calculated that hospitalization rates for all-cause illnesses of any sort and respiratory diseases particularly decreased by 0.74% for an area where an additional 1% of families engaged in the program. More than 2% fewer people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) were hospitalized.
Burke, who is the study’s senior author and an associate professor in the global environmental policy area of the Stanford Doerr School of Sustainability’s social sciences division, said, “A key insight is that policies or programs that promote decarbonization could also have immediate and very large health benefits at population scale.”