Diary Of An Eco-Builder

Keen to stop wasting so much electrical energy? An induction hob will do the job
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The Independent Online

Such socio-economic transformation remains the most reliable non-cooperative way of escaping from environmental pollution. The distinction between upstairs and downstairs in the Victorian household is reflected in the class distinctions of western and eastern districts of British cities (the latter are downwind of pollution). Today the West's voracious consumption of raw materials is blind to the environmental exploitation of poorly regulated, non-unionised labour in developing countries where the materials are produced.

Faraday did not make his name tackling such environmental injustice but in developing a technological, rather than socio-economic, means of escaping environmental pollution. In 1831 he demonstrated the principle of electro-magnetic induction: the creation of electric current in a conductor by a moving or changing magnetic field. This discovery meant that electricity could leap from the realm of scientific curiosity into the brave new world of power technology; generators, transformers and innumerable electric devices began life here.

Electricity is magical. Not only is it incredibly versatile, it is also pollution-free at the point of use. Unfortunately, however, this magic is a trick. Of all the different forms of energy we use in our homes, electricity is the dirtiest because over half the energy released from the coal, gas or oil burnt in the power station (to drive the turbines that drive the generators) is wasted. The hidden injustice here is global as the worst impacts of climate change, fuelled by the power station's carbon dioxide exhaust, will be borne by countries with the least means to cope with them.

The inefficiency of traditional electricity generation means that it is usually better to cook with gas than electricity. Unless, that is, you take Faraday's discovery one step further and install an induction hob. An ordinary hob works by emitting heat upwards to the base of the pan; an induction hob stays cool but creates heat within the pan by way of Faraday's changing magnetic field. The result is almost a doubling of energy efficiency from around 45% for an ordinary hob to 82% for an induction hob.

As all the energy for Tree House will be generated on our solar roof we don't have to worry too much about fossil fuels and distant power stations. Nonetheless, we can only achieve our energy self-sufficient goal by radically reducing our demand for energy in the house. Given the considerable energy needed for cooking, our AEG-Electrolux induction hob is a godsend (www.aeg-electrolux.co.uk) and already has pride of place in the kitchen taking shape in Stephen Edward's Brixton workshop (www.ecointeriors-uk.com). Happily, as well as being incredibly efficient, induction hobs are also highly responsive, very safe and easy to clean.

Although I'm a sucker for technology, I couldn't end this piece without suggesting a little behaviour change to improve your cooking efficiency: keep lids on pans; turn the ring off and let the pan do the last five minutes (unless you are frying); and, if you cook with gas, make sure the pan covers the flame. Alternatively, if you are at the top of the socio-economic pile, dispense with a hob altogether and live entirely on rocket salad, sashimi and steak tartare.