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Health Benefits of Renewable Energy

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Renewable electricity projects and energy efficiency measures could have health benefits worth millions of dollars a year, according to a study published online in Nature Climate Change. The value of such projects varies greatly depending on the type of project, and where they are located, however.

Generating electricity from low-carbon energy sources and cutting energy demand reduces the need for fossil fuel power generation, decreasing emissions of harmful gases such as nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, and carbon dioxide. Dr. Jonathan Buonocore, Program Leader at the Center for Health and the Global Environment, and colleagues created an assessment tool to calculate the monetized public health and climate benefits of a wind and a solar energy project and two strategies aimed at reducing energy usage in the Mid-Atlantic and Lower Great Lakes region of the United States for 2012.

They found that while all the low-carbon energy projects reduced greenhouse gas emissions, the results varied dramatically by location. For example, a wind installation near Cincinnati was twice as beneficial as one in Virginia, largely because of Cincinnati’s higher downwind population density and greater reduction in coal-fired electricity, magnifying the effects on human health. Meanwhile, a solar installation near Cincinnati was nearly three times as beneficial as one near Chicago because it displaced much coal with greater sulfur dioxide emissions.

The authors conclude that the benefit of implementing such strategies ranged from US$5.7 to US$210 million a year, depending on the project type and location. They suggest that their tool could be used to make decisions about which energy and environmental policies to implement across the United States.

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Impact

The American Wind Energy Association used this study to estimate the health and climate benefits of wind energy nationwide.

Photo: Flickr | Adrian S. Jones | CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Aaron Bernstein, MD, MPH

Aaron Bernstein is the Interim Director of The Center for Climate, Health, and the Global Environment, a pediatrician at Boston Children’s Hospital, and an Assistant Professor of Pediatrics.

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