Renewable Energy Health Benefits – Renewable energy has the potential to curb greenhouse gas emissions, lower electricity costs, and enrich communities. It also benefits public health.
In July 2019, the United States of America
The EPA conducted a study “to assist state and local governments and other organizations in evaluating public financial investments in energy efficiency and renewable energy.” The fossil fuel industry has long been known to be harmful to human health, particularly historically benefiting communities living near toxic emissions. Quantifying the health benefits of renewable energy in dollars can be a tool to convince project engineers more in the event.
The EPA report estimates the health benefits of four different projects: integrated energy efficiency, peak energy efficiency, solar energy, and wind energy. To be consistent with our renewable energy experience, the data in this post only uses the health benefits of solar and wind power (whichever is less important) to arrive at a conservative estimate of savings.
The reported values are “profit per kilowatt-hour” (BPK), expressed in hundreds per kilowatt-hour. Here’s how the EPA came up with the latest numbers:
Report on health hazards caused by nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide and PM2.5. These substances contribute to heart attacks, asthma and respiratory diseases. However, the report recognizes that fossil fuel power generation poses health risks: “reduced visibility, accelerated wear and tear of materials (from acid rain and erosion)” and “return to recreational services.” These side effects should be considered in decision making, but are not included in the study.
In addition to reducing air quality, fossil fuels affect public health. Before burning, pine and oil contaminate water and land. Gas leaks and leaks in the house can trigger an asthma attack or cause an explosion. All these negative effects must be considered in a comprehensive argument for renewable energy.
Learn about the benefits of healthy home gas, alternative technology options, and how cities can be leaders in reducing gas use in this episode of the Local Energy Regulation podcast.
The report is not analyzed by state, but by ten geographic regions covering the 48 contiguous states. Here are the regions (adjusted to state boundaries for research purposes);
The health benefits of renewable energy vary by country for many reasons. First, each region has its own electricity portfolio. California’s electricity is primarily gas-fired, and therefore has less of a qualified health impact (although substantial evidence suggests that leaks in gas extraction and delivery have significant adverse effects). Second, the EPA says that sulfur dioxide emissions are higher in the Midwest, which is more likely to be AM.
In the atmosphere (most harmful compounds). This will increase the benefits of renewable energy for the health of the population in the region. Finally, each region has a different population density. Because each calculated value is generated per kilowatt hour, higher population density results in higher population health benefits. This is why BPK values are higher in the East than in the South, where they are less affected by the region’s air quality.
The results of studies with higher and lower estimates come because of the uncertainty of the health effects of AM.
The EPA study provides results for as many as three and seven percent. The information below estimates only three percent, because this figure is more significant for future generations.
A similar but broader assessment of the health benefits of renewable energy see this report from Harvard researchers.
Our results vary by region for reasons similar to health hours per kilowatt. In addition, the data varies by region due to different electricity prices. Electricity is very expensive in California and the East. This lowers the portion of the price of electricity that the public health pays.
In a low-cost scenario, the health benefits of clean energy range from 3% to 29% of electricity costs for residential customers. In the Midwest and Mid-Atlantic regions, health benefits account for the largest share of electricity costs.
The maximum price of the mission shows much more variation. In this case, the health benefits of clean energy range from 6% to 65% of the cost of electricity. In 12 states, renewable energy sources account for more than half of local electricity.
The results provide another approach to clean, locally produced energy. The EPA’s health assessment model only works to replace 15% of the electricity generated in any given state, but every state has the potential to generate a lot of clean energy – and more.
Because the EPA’s study is not prospective, it does not take into account that the adverse health effects of fossil fuels increase as the energy is produced dirtier. The EPA reports that the benefits of renewable energy per kilowatt-hour, excluding the harmful health effects of carbon dioxide (heat stress, vector-borne diseases), are estimated to be small.
In the study’s conclusion, the EPA found that the health benefits of clean energy outweigh the technology in some cases. If all the benefits of clean energy are combined, the benefits of clean energy can be exceeded in all cases.
This article was first published. For timely updates, follow John Farrell on Twitter or receive weekly updates from Energy Democracy.
Featured Photo Credit: Maciek Lulko via Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0) / Tim Green via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)
Mary McCoy is a researcher at the Energy Democracy Initiative. In this role he contributes blog posts, podcasts, video content and interactive features. Solar energy is saving dollars – and there’s only one way to survive: by replacing fossil fuels.
Solar energy is attractive for many reasons; It creates jobs, supports the economic development of regions and states, and lowers electricity costs over time. However, its biggest benefit is that it makes electricity generated from fossil fuels. Burning fossil fuels for electricity is deadly, so solar can also save lives — but how can we quantify these benefits?
A 2016 study conducted as part of the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Sunshot initiative addressed this question. The goal of the Sunshot Initiative is to lower the cost of installed solar energy to 6 cents per kilowatt and in turn increase solar adoption across large parts of the United States. she is Electricity supply: 14 percent in 2030, 27 percent in 2050.
Although the Settings initiative was only recently launched, its benefits are already being seen. Some of the effects we see from installed and operational solar power are illustrated in the chart below:
That reduction is 17 million metric tons of CO2 per year, a global annual benefit of $700 million, “a reduction of 10,000, 10,300, and 1,200 metric tons of SO2, NOx, and PM2.5.” The benefits of indoor air quality include fewer sick days from work, fewer childhood asthma attacks, and fewer deaths from circulatory and respiratory diseases.
Between 2015 and 2050, this would save 10 percent of electricity grid emissions and increase up to $259 billion in global climate benefits. Add to that the $167 billion worth of particulate matter (PM2.5), nitrogen oxide (NOx) and sulfur dioxide (SO2) emissions and the damage to the environment and health is significant. In total, this is a 46 trillion gallon reduction in water abstractions and a 5 trillion gallon reduction in water use by the energy sector. Total pollution and climate benefits are at least $400 billion over a 35-year period in 2016 dollars.
The huge health and environmental benefits are frankly significant in their own right. But this is the only relation of the solar card. The world doubled its solar capacity in 2016, largely due to lower costs. More Americans are now working on solar power than Apple, Facebook and Google. Elon Musk and Tesla are taking their supercharger network off the grid and going almost entirely solar. No matter where you live, there’s no doubt that solar power will soon be cheaper.
It is unclear what the Sunshot project will look like in the coming year. The DOE made significant cuts in both versions of the 2018 White House budget, including the case of clean energy programs like Sunshot, but those programs were only 20 percent of the DOE’s budget.
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