Moving away from Russian gas: A bread oven is not just an oven

It is planned that two gas-fired ovens will be replaced with one electric oven at Schulstad’s bakery in Avedøre. This will provide savings both in terms of finances and CO2. Illustration: Schulstad

Replacing a gas oven with an electric oven is hardly something most consumers consider a complicated project. Oftentimes it just requires a few clicks on a website, and shortly after, the oven will be at your doorstep.

But if the industrial bakery Schulstad wants to switch from gas to electricity, they cannot just order a replacement at the local electronics store.

“It often takes 18 to 24 months from the time we make a decision to replace an oven until it’s ready,” says Claus Loft, operations director at Schulstad.

He emphasizes that the decision has been underway for some time, as Schulstad’s gas consumption accounts for two thirds of its total energy consumption.

The desire to move away from gas is based on a number of factors, including Schulstad’s ambitious goal of being CO2-neutral in its own operations by 2030.

There was also an expectation that there would be a CO2 tax on a par with the one that has now been proposed by the government. And last but not least, there is a general desire to replace ovens with new technology on an ongoing basis. However, it should be added that an industrial oven for baking bread usually lasts for 20–30 years.

“We actually have an oven that has just reached 30 years of service and is due to be replaced. It's therefore obvious to start from there. Because with an expected CO2 tax of DKK 750 per tonne, we could see a payback period of three to five years,” Claus Loft says.

Electric ovens require space

But replacing the long tunnel ovens is not an uncomplicated affair. First of all, there is a purely practical matter of space in buildings, as an electric oven requires more space than a gas oven.

A single tunnel oven has a length of between 30 and 50 meters. Illustration: Schulstad

In fact, Claus Loft was in doubt that it was at all possible to buy an electric oven that could achieve the high temperatures required to bake bread without the oven having to be extra long. But a Norwegian bakery in the group had contacted a supplier who could actually deliver this type of oven.

“However, we held back a bit with the concrete plans as several of our ovens were relatively new. But then came the war and gas prices skyrocketed. New calculations showed that we could now almost halve the payback period, and then the plans were moved forward,” he says.

On top of that, there was also a direct threat that the gas supply could be completely cut off. Schulstad is in fact one of the gas consumers to which the authorities can stop the supply in the event of a shortage.

The company is not at the top of the list, and as Claus Loft says, “of course, we cross our fingers that we continue to receive gas, but that is something we take into account when a decision has to be made”.

Right now, the plan is for two gas-fired ovens in the bakery in Avedøre to be merged into one electric oven. As already mentioned, it is not something that can just be delivered from one day to the next, and Schulstad also needs to research the bread market to get an oven that can deliver the right products.

“So we are trying to kill two birds with one stone by both replacing two gas ovens with one electric oven and at the same time changing our products. We hope to be able to reduce gas consumption in this way,” he explains.

More power is needed

But when gas consumption falls, electricity consumption increases, and a new challenge arises: the first electric oven can be handled well with the current electrical installations at the bakery. But if more ovens need to be replaced, then there the electricity supply must not only be reinforced internally, but also from the outside.

“If all five ovens are to be switched to electricity, then we will need some really thick cables from our utility company, as we are talking about a consumption of up to 5 MW,” Claus Loft says.

It could be further reinforced by yet another project that Schulstad is working on; namely, electrification of transport.

Today, Schulstad has 80 distribution trucks, and according to Claus Loft, it will be possible to replace them with electric trucks of the same size. But then another challenge arises.

“The trucks drive out at night and have to be charged during the day. But this is when the electricity price is at its highest, so we are considering investing in a large battery that we can charge at night, when prices are low,” he says, and if that is the case, the cables to Avedøre will need to be able to provide even more electricity.