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Old 12-28-2010, 06:11 PM   #1
JimWard
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Smile Electric VS Nat Gas (not propane)

First off, I just want to say what a great place this is. I have been lurking in the shadows for years and decided it was finally time to join up! I have learned TONS from this website - my favorite!

Secondly, what a ridiculous hobby this is - but i still love it and am addicted!

My first post!!!

--------------------

So on to my question...

Natural Gas or Electric? I need to decide soon as i am ready to begin the purchasing process for my system.

Hands down electric is cheaper than Propane - given. But I am interested in natural gas.

Electric is very appealing to me for all the same reasons so many have chosen to implement it. However, i have lived in a home with electric water heater and electric central heating and my god the electric bills!!! So if i brew weekly i really don't need the SWMBO griping about the electric bill. She freaked when she heard i was thinking of going electric.

I am technically good with both (electric or nat gas) and am mainly concerned with COST! I have noticed a lot of discussion about efficiency and cost of electricity but very little discussion about the cost of natural gas. Am i simply missing this???

If it is a wash, then i'd go electric for sure. But i can't let go of the fear that the electric bill would go sky high. My personal observations with utilities bills do not show electric as being anything other than way expensive (compared to nat gas).

Can someone set me at ease? Your thoughts?

Thanks!

James

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Old 12-28-2010, 06:15 PM   #2
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I've seen a lot of builds use natural gas, I think its def cheaper myself, why else do so many restaurants use gas grills instead of electric. Gas stoves are cheaper, etc. Propane is just more expensive because you buy it in small quantity etc. Even then, when I refill my propane tanks at a refill station instead of a 'trade in' type station, I pay about 15 bucks for two full tanks... and one 10gallon batch uses only say about 1/2 a tank in most cases... maybe a bit more. So I only add 5-7 dollars probably per batch in fuel costs.

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Old 12-28-2010, 06:21 PM   #3
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I can't give you any answers on the costs, but I'm also questioning the same thing. I already have a single tier 3 burner NG system, but I'm really toying with the idea of using electric for a RIMS tube and possibly the HLT heater.

I've seen many posts saying how much more efficient electric heat is than gas, but if you have a huge cost differential, that efficiency may not matter.

Being in SoCal like you, my electric is already sky high ($350-$450 per month). I'm in tier 5 on my Edison bill, so any additional kilowatts is going to cost me in the area of 40+ cents each.

I'll be curious to see what responses you get here.

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Old 12-28-2010, 06:48 PM   #4
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Exactly. thanks for the reality check. jim

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Old 12-28-2010, 06:55 PM   #5
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JonW, WOWZERS thats a HUGE electric bill how many SQ is your home and what all do you have going on?

I have NG water heater, gas stove, and Dryer. my Electric bill is right around $89-95 I think I'd **** my self if I got a $350 bill.

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Old 12-28-2010, 07:39 PM   #6
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Jon:

It is hard to get exact apples to apples estimates of electric vs gas for several reasons. In order to figure your gas costs you would likely have to do a few brews and measure your gas useage before you could draw up a comparison.

Also the batch size you will be brewing makes a big difference as you can use smaller electric elements (and /or less gas ) on smaller batches.

As you say you have been snooping around here for a while you probably already know that electric is approaching 100% efficiency and gas, depending on your burner setup, can allow a lot of your heat to simply escape up the sides of the kettle. This can be minimized to some extent by burner design and shielding but there will always be losses.

You do not say if you have been actively brewing for any length of time. If you are just starting out I would highly suggest you pick up an inexpensive or second hand turkey fryer style propane setup and some decent kettles to start out on. This keeps your investment low until you find out if you enjoy the hobby and will be brewing on a long term basis. You can carefully select kettles and such that can fit into future upgrade plans.

If you are doing 5 gallon batches, even at .40 / KWH your cost to brew would be under $5 I would think. This is assuming say a 2.5KW element in your HLT running 1 hour to heat up to strike temp and 1 hour during mash = 5KW or $2 If you went with say a 3.5KW element in your boil kettle you would need maybe 30 - 40 min at full bore to get up to a boil, but then could maintain full boil at a lower power setting of maybe 60%. You'd probably get away with 5KW or less total here as well adding another $2. Bear in mind I am winging these estimates a bit just as a reference.

Your big cost is going to be the up-front build of the unit. You have to factor in the amount of control/automation you want. The cost of solenoids/relays/controllers and automation to turn your gas burners or elements on and off etc. In your case with the high cost of electric it will take a long time for the savings of either gas or electric to overcome the cost of the build, so the simple answer is probably to go with the technology that you can set up to do what you want the cheapest that gives you the level of control and automation that you want.

Also as I said, make sure you've got some brewing under your belt and have decided you will be doing this long term as well.

Cheers and welcome to the forum

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Old 12-28-2010, 09:45 PM   #7
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Zen Brewer, Thanks for the reply (this is jim).

True enough, i did not give any background. I am an advanced AG brewer with perhaps a 50-75 batches under my belt. 10 and 15 gallon batches. I am hooked big time and am looking to implement some automation.

I have a natural gas "tap" in my garage along with a homemade burner stand that holds a 26 gal kettle - I am in the planning stages for my first rig and much as i like what can be done with electrics, I still remain concerned about the cost. Our utility bill has hardly gone up at all with my addition of natural gas brewing (I dumped the propane turkey fryer long time ago - i do cook an occasional turkey in it!)

"...electric is approaching 100% efficiency”

I guess I also don't understand why the above statement is relevant. Seems to me you need to include the cost of electricity. If at the end of the day it costs me 5 bucks of electricity as opposed to 1 or 2 for gas, sorry but I don't care which is more efficient. I will be going with gas - it is cheaper.

Your electric calculations seem about right, guess I need to figure out how much natural gas I use on a brew day and how much it costs. Never paid much attention to the gas meter - time to figure it out.

Anyone have any natural gas usage info? I will be brewing in a couple of days and will certainly log how much natural gas I use and report back.

I really do value the discussion on all this - I would like to be wrong about the cost of electrics.

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Old 12-28-2010, 10:10 PM   #8
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Hi Jim,

I did some calculating on this myself about a month ago as I'm considering a switch to electric. Around here I pay ~.12/kwh for electric & .79329/ccf for gas. I currently run (2) 23 tip jet burners, but usually only one is on at a time. The rating of these is 100k btu. One CCF of gas produces about 102k btu's. So I figure on average I have 3 hours of burn time in a 10 gallon brew session, so 3 CCF of gas or 3 x .79329 = $2.38. Keep in mind that the burners are not on full blast ever, maybe 2/3 during heating, then 1/3-1/2 to maintain boil, so it's probably less than that.

On the electric side, I was considering going with 5500w elements, and if I ran the same 3 hrs, that's 16500w or 16.5kw x .12 = $1.98.

So in my case the electric may actually be cheaper. I don't know if 3 hours is accurate for electric since I've never done it yet, but it was close enough that I will likely switch to electric so I can brew indoors. I had honestly thought it would have been much higher since I have a ridiculous electric bill, and was my main reason for going with gas to start with. I didn't want to up my electric bill anymore.

Hope this helps.

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Old 12-28-2010, 11:00 PM   #9
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Jim: (sorry for calling you Jon earlier)

I only mention the electric is near 100% efficiency because many people immediately think of the element stlye kitchen stove when considering electric which still has many losses of heat up the side of the heating vessel, but you are correct the point is moot in a pure bottom line cost basis discussion.

My earlier electric cost estimate is likely on the high side as I did not take into account the on/off cycling of an element in the HLT which will be off for periods of time when the mash is at "set" temp. I'd bet if you are at the top tier .40 / KWH rate that you are in the $3-$4 range per batch. I live in the Seattle area and we have a good deal of hydro generated electric here which is reflected in subsidized electric rates. I will not depress you by telling you what we pay, suffice it to say it is among the lowest rates in the nation and makes electric a much more viable choice here.

Sounds like what it may boil down to is your cost to build. Lets say as a pure theoretical example that due to the cost of burners, valves, piping, and automated valves to turn your burners on and off that a natural gas system costs $150 more to build. Lets also say that your cost to brew with electric comes to $4 per batch and your cost with gas comes to $3 per batch. It would take you 150 batches until you realize the savings in initial cost and begin coming out ahead. I'm just throwing out an example and it could in fact be more expensive to set up an electric system if you need to add 240V service, a long electrical run, GFI circuits etc.

I lived for a couple years in the San Jose area, and if I still lived in Cali I too would be giving natural gas a hard took.

Good luck.

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Old 12-28-2010, 11:31 PM   #10
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I think the energy cost is one of the smallest of all the costs in this hobby. You'd do far better worrying about where you get your sacks of grain.

Even if you pay 40 cents a KWh, a typical brew day would cost all of $4 and the propane guys wish it were that cheap.

Another reason to consider efficiency (which by the way for natgas or propane is only 40% if you're lucky) is how much heat you'd be putting into your garage assuming that's where you like to brew. I just plain give up brewing in the summer here in NJ because my garage runs 10F over outside temps during the boil.

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