Electricity, Gas & Kerosene: Which is Cheaper?

Electricity, Gas & Kerosene: Which is Cheaper?

Have you ever wondered whether to boil water using an electric kettle or to use cooking gas? Or maybe you currently use kerosene and wonder what the hype is about gas. My wife and I routinely debated our home’s energy cost with regards to different energy sources, so I decided to do an empiric comparison. Maybe someone else could use this to settle their own debates.

Let me start by addressing two common misconceptions in Nigeria. Firstly, it is untrue that electricity is cheaper than gas and kerosene. I think this misconception may be due to issues around estimated billing for many electricity consumers in Nigeria and the prevalence of energy theft, which makes consumers understate the cost of electricity. As prepaid meters gain popularity, consumers would better appreciate the cost of their electricity usage. Secondly, the fact that gas cylinders routinely need refilling (no domestic piped gas in Nigeria) does not necessarily mean that gas costs more than electricity. Here, psychology tends to act as we see that electricity “does not finish” but the gas in our cylinders may run out, sometimes while cooking something as unforgiving as beans! As the gas market expands, the number of refill stations and small-scale retailers is increasing, which should make it easier to refill gas cylinders. Households may also consider having a spare cylinder as backup for when gas runs out at inconvenient periods.

I have developed a simple Microsoft Excel Spreadsheet for comparing the cost of using electricity, gas, or kerosene to boil a given quantity of water (ignoring heat transfer efficiency). Using a formula common to secondary school physics students (q = -h = mcΔΘ), the amount of heat energy needed to take a given volume of water from a given temperature, Θ1, to a final temperature, Θ2, is calculated. If boiling water, Θ2 would be 100°C. Since electricity is purchased in “units” of kWh (kilowatts-hour), this unit has been used to compare the cost of heating water using the three energy sources. Costs are valid as at September 2020 and can be adjusted by inputting price changes into the appropriate cells. The spreadsheet can be downloaded here.

For those interested in a summary, cooking gas (liquefied petroleum gas or LPG) is the cheapest energy source per kWh (beats electricity and kerosene) even though one litre of kerosene has about 37% more energy than one litre of LPG. Should I also add that LPG is cleaner than kerosene and causes less kitchen stress as pots largely remain clear unlike kerosene soot that blackens pots and can impact your health? This is not an LPG advert, but as electricity costs go up (amidst unreliable supply), it may be smarter to swallow the higher upfront cost of gas cookers and cylinders in return for lower longer-term energy costs.

Image Credit: howstuffworks.com

PS. The National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) published ₦3,723.53 as the lowest cost (state average) of refilling a 12.5 kg LPG cylinder in Nigeria. However, for the applicable month (August 2020), a refilling station in Lagos quoted ₦3,300 for that refill size. Hence, gas (and maybe kerosene) may be cheaper in some parts of Nigeria than the average values published by NBS.

Data Analysis Summary

Volume1litre, L
Mass, m1kilogram, kg
Specific Heat Capacity, c4,184J/kg.K
Initial Temperature, Θ120°C
Final Temperature, Θ2100°C
Temperature Change, ΔΘ80°C
Heat Required, q334,720J
334.72kJ
0.093kWh
Water Properties

To raise 1.0 L of water by 80.0°C

 LowMidHigh
Electricity ₦             2.98 ₦               3.98 ₦     5.31
Gas ₦             2.04 ₦               2.26 ₦     2.52
Kerosene ₦             2.42 ₦               3.25 ₦     3.73
Heating Cost Comparison

Energy Content Assumptions

Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG)

Note that LPG in Nigeria is a mixture of propane and butane (70:30 mix ratio assumed)

Propane:         1 kg ≈ 1.96 L ≈ 13.6 kWh

Butane:           1 kg ≈ 1.72 L ≈ 13.7 kWh

LPG:                 1 kg ≈ 1.88 L ≈ 13.63 kWh

1 L ≈ 7.22 kWh

Kerosene

Heating value of kerosene between 43.1 MJ/kg and 46.2 MJ/kg

1 MJ = 0.2778 kWh

Density = 800 kg/m3

1 kg ≈ 1.25 L ≈ 12.41 kWh

1 L ≈ 9.93 kWh

5 thoughts on “Electricity, Gas & Kerosene: Which is Cheaper?

  1. Very interesting. Of course l agree with you, Gas is cheaper compared to the other sources. However, it would be interesting if we can have average cost of producing a kWH of electricity using a gas powered generator.

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    1. I’m assuming you’re referring to gas power plants. Without doing any analysis, I would think that the unit cost of generating 1 kWh of electricity at a power station would be less than the cost of generating 1 kWh of heat using a domestic gas cooker, given that bulk purchasers of gas would likely have lower pricing. This assumes that the same amount of “gas” is used in both scenarios, which is a faulty assumption given that power plants would usually run on natural gas (methane) which contains less energy per unit volume than the propane and butane mixture in LPG. It also doesn’t consider heat transfer efficiency which would be difficult to factor in without knowing the exact equipment involved.

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  2. Fantastic one man!
    👏🏾
    Smooth breakdown.
    I kept poring over those numbers and formulas. You took us back to FGC Physics.
    It was a very scientific way of explaining something understandably complex.

    Just some thoughts though…
    Even though the spreadsheet contained the cost of kerosene/litre and electricity/kwh, the summary analysis on the essay didn’t have that detail.

    Also, how do you factor in energy inefficiencies, knowing that energy is lost (converted) while been consumed. This is mostly true in the case of gas usage and kerosene usage, which happen to be summarily cheaper than electricity.

    However, superb effort!

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    1. The summary is intended for persons who simply want the “final answer”, hence, it doesn’t contain all applicable data. For those interested in reviewing the analysis, the spreadsheet should be sufficient.

      I’ve deliberately avoided the efficiency discussion as it would complicate things. For example, different electric, gas, and kerosene cookers would have varying heat transfer efficiencies that depends on intrinsic factors like the cooker construction and materials used, and extrinsic factors like whether there’s some breeze blowing near a cooker while in operation, which reduces the heat getting to a saucepan, or even the type of saucepan being used. I think it’s safer to run away from such complications.

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