Slow Cookers and Energy Usage
by Doug Cote
Benefits of Slow Cooker Cooking
Slow-Cook Once for Multiple Healthy Meals
Kitchen Appliance Face-Off
I have seen the question raised many times in many different ways, am I saving energy/electricity by using a slow-cooker instead of a stove? Nope. In fact, depending on the size of your slow-cooker compared to the size of your stove; you may be using almost twice as much energy to cook in your slow-cooker. There are a lot of variables involved that determine how much; oven element size, oven insulation, slow cooker size, cooking temperature, baking and cooking times, to name a few. The simplest explanation is that your oven cycles on and off, while your slow-cooker cooks, "with no more energy than a light bulb", but it does so continuously, and that adds up.
When you bake in an oven, you're heating up an insulated box with a temperature controlled heating element, generally rated as 240 volts AC at 10 amps of current, some more, some less. This calculates out to be a 2,400 watt heating element capable of delivering 2400 watts of heat in one hour, hence 2400 watt hours as the utility likes to bill you in. Because a temperature sensor controls the oven it only turns on the 2400-watt element to keep the temperature in the oven constant. It doesn't run continuously for a full hour, instead it turns on and off to keep the temperature constant with-in a few degrees of the dial set point. You may have noticed the oven light on your stove turn off once the oven has reached temperature, the element turned off too. This cycling on and off is what saves you money in cooking in your oven. If your oven temperature control turns the oven on for a total of 15 minutes out of every hour, your only using 1/4 of the 2400 watts the element is rated at, 600 watt hours of energy to cook for one hour. Our oven ran for 12 minutes out of every hour, this will vary greatly from oven to oven.
Now for the slow-cooker. Slow-cookers are rated similar to your oven, since they plug into your kitchen electric outlet they are 120 volts AC at between .6 amps and 2 amps, this works out to be between 70 watts (low temperature small CP) and 250 watts (high temperature big CP). Since we have a large slow-cooker I will use it as my example, but using the information that follows you can also calculate your own energy usage. Our slow-cooker is a large 5-quart brand with a low cooking power of 180 watts and a high cooking power of 250 watts. It's information you find on the label. The difference between the oven and the slow-cooker is that the slow-cooker cooks continuously. What that means is if you cook on high with a 250 watt hour element for 4 hours, you use (4 X 250) 1000 watt hours of electricity. If you cook on low with a 180 watt hour element for 8 hours, you use (8 X 180) 1440 watt hours of electricity. No energy savings at my house. If you have a small slow-cooker with a low range that uses a 70-watt element, cooking for 8 hours only uses 560-watt hours of electricity. If you have a 100-watt light bulb in your kitchen and you leave it on while your slow-cooker is cooking you will be using (8 hours X 100) 800-watt hours of electricity.
Things aren't as bad as they seem; here again we have to factor in the variables. If you're going to cook a meal in a slow-cooker, you throw everything in there. If you're going to be using the oven, you probably also will be heating a potato and vegetable dish on your stove. Using the stove top raises the amount of energy used to prepare the meal. It's not to hard to figure out from the rating on the slow-cooker just how much energy you are using, watts times the number of hours. The hard part is figuring out what your oven is doing. Unless you have the knowledge and test equipment to measure your oven energy usage, the only other way is to ask your appliance representative or parts center what the element is rated at. So now you have the picture, fortunately we didn't get our slow-cooker to save energy. We got it for the convenience; it saves time in our busy schedule by having our meals ready when we all come home and because slow-cooker cooking results in some great meals of tender roasts, chicken and stews.
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