There are a number of activities we do, and appliances we use, around the home which might involve electricity or gas. But which of these resources is preferable when it comes to heating? In this post I consider some pros and cons of gas and electricity use, from both an environmental and a financial point of view.

First of all, let’s look at where these different forms of energy come from. When we talk about using gas in our homes, we’re mostly speaking of natural gas, which is a non-renewable fossil fuel composed primarily of methane and produced by organic matter decomposing underground over millions of years. Before it reaches our homes, natural gas needs to be extracted and processed then transported from its source, mostly via pipelines – which, coupled with its burning, makes gas a significant environmental pollutant.

Where electricity is concerned, Energy UK states that “most of the UK’s electricity is produced by burning fossil fuels, mainly natural gas (47% in 2010) and coal (28%)”, with 16% of it coming from nuclear reactors and a smaller but rising percentage coming from renewable sources such as wind, wave and solar.

Like gas, electricity is also a significant environmental pollutant, although unlike gas it isn’t intrinsically so, because electricity may be obtained from renewable sources. That said, renewable ‘green gas’ produced from biodegradable food waste rather than extracted from the earth looks to be a thing of the future – green gas is being pursued by the energy supplier Ecotricity, among others.

When it comes to considering environmental pollution, however, it isn’t only the source of these different forms of energy that’s important but also their efficiency – which links to considerations of cost. In The Rough Guide to Ethical Living, author and journalist Duncan Clark refers to electric heating (such as electric radiators and storage heaters) as a ‘climate crime’ on the basis that it is highly inefficient compared to gas systems, “producing on average around twice as much CO2 per unit of heat than does gas.”

While people who aren’t connected to the gas network may find electricity the most viable option, there’s no getting around the fact that more resources are used in heating our homes by electricity than by gas – and electricity is pricier as well. Energy efficiency site The Green Age suggests that in the average home 1 kWh of mains gas costs about 4p, while 1 kWh of mains electricity costs about 15p.

Space and water heating account for most of the energy used for heating in the home, although a small amount (some 5%) is also used in cooking, making it a consideration whether to have a gas or electric cooker. The same cost and efficiency issues apply here as to gas and electricity use elsewhere, with gas being both cheaper and more energy efficient – and therefore less environmentally damaging.

Some of the other advantages of cooking on gas, such as instant adjustment of temperature, can now also be enjoyed with electric induction hobs, which also produce considerably less waste heat than gas, although the initial outlay for these devices (2-3 times the price of regular electric or gas stoves) may offset these benefits.

[Photos by krosseel and kconners]