Climate Change Commission report: How it could change the future of gas

By Nick Truebridge for RNZ

Small businesses like restaurants and cafes could be impacted after the Climate Change Commission released its first report, with a raft of targets proposed to cut New Zealand's emissions.

The commission has found the government needs to do more to meet its obligations under the Paris Agreement.

And its advice means big changes for New Zealand's small businesses.

The sear of a steak is a sound that's here to stay, but how you cook that piece of porterhouse, scotch or eye fillet could be about to change.

The Climate Change Commission, in its draft plan for cutting the country's emissions, has advised that it is time to cut gas.

Its plan suggests no new natural gas connections to the network or bottled LPG after 2025.

By 2050, the commission says existing natural gas in buildings should be phased out.

It is not just households that will be impacted. The report says small businesses like restaurants and cafes will need to move away from gas to lower emissions solutions.

Wellington chef Martin Bosley says that represents a huge change in mindset for the New Zealand cook.

"Ninety-five percent of restaurants are on gas. That's everything from its hot water through to cooking equipment," he said.

But what is wrong with electricity and renewable energy sources? And why are such a small fraction of our hospitality businesses using them?

"Gas is efficient, it's quick and controllable. It's immediate. I need to cook your piece of steak and I put a pan on the element, I turn the gas on and it's instantly hot. The pan gets hot and away we go. When I'm finished I turn the gas off, or if I need to slow it down I can, and again it's immediate.

"With electricity, you turn the element on and you have to wait for it to heat up," Bosley said.

"It takes longer to do so it's just not a very efficient way of cooking."

Bosley said electric induction equipment is slowly becoming available for commercial sections, but he describes it as "prohibitively expensive" currently.

Fitting out a kitchen so it is fully electric would be a mammoth shift for New Zealand restaurants, he said.

"You're going to have to rethink the entire model. The amount of equipment you need, what you need, everything will change. The services, the plumbing requirements, the electrical requirements. And as equipment comes to the end of its natural life and you have to replace it with electrical, do you replace the entire kitchen? Do you do it a piece at a time? It's pretty big."

Then there's the move away from gas in the home. Professor Philippa Howden-Chapman from Otago University's Department of Public Health said she is in favour of the change, but the country's lowest income households will need help.

"I think it's a good aim, and of course there will need to be some recompense or some subsidy for lower-income houses who have to budget day to day and use LPG canisters. But those need to be phased out and I think the timeframe is reasonable."

Professor Howden-Chapman says that government assistance would also be needed to help people transition to other lower emitting machines like cars. The commission has also suggested a halt on petrol vehicle importations as early as 2030.

Consumer NZ chief executive Jon Duffy says electricity is just as cost-effective and efficient.

"The big thing here is, what we're looking at is new connections. All houses already have a connection to electricity. You can run your house relatively efficiently on electricity and heat your house to a suitable standard, including your water," he said.

"So in terms of new connections, people aren't actually losing that much. Electricity is a perfectly suitable alternative to gas."

The commission's draft advice is now open for consultation until 14 March and final advice will be released before 31 May.

The advice includes three emissions budgets. The government said it will release an Emissions Reduction Plan before the end of the year after receiving the final advice, which will set out how the first three emissions budgets will be achieved.