Homenews

U.S. wind and solar energy saved up to 12,700 lives, $220 billion in past decade

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A major new study funded by the Department of Energy documents major health and air quality benefits from the U.S. wind and solar revolution of the past decade, which include up to 12,700 lives saved.

“The monetary value of air quality and climate benefits are about equal or more than state and federal financial support to wind and solar industries,” the lead author, Dr. Dev Millstein of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, told Quartz.

The Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory study, published in Nature Energy finds that thanks to the 10-fold increase in wind and solar generation from 2007 to 2015, “cumulative wind and solar air quality benefits were $29.7bn to $112.8bn mostly from 3,000 to 12,700 avoided premature mortalities.” These benefits come from renewable energy sources replacing fossil-fuel generation that was spewing vast amounts of dangerous pollutants, including particulates.

Total wind and solar generation (in TeraWatt-hours) in the continental US by month. CREDIT: EIA data, Nature Energy chart.
Total wind and solar generation (in TeraWatt-hours) in the continental US by month. CREDIT: EIA data, Nature Energy chart.

The authors also looked also at the avoided damage to the climate — “changes to agricultural productivity, energy use, losses from disasters such as floods, human health and general ecosystem services” — from the reduced carbon pollution.

They found the cumulative climate benefits were $5 billion to $107 billion. But the $5 billion estimate stems from an unjustifiably low estimate for the social cost of carbon of $7 per metric ton of CO2; it is widely estimated to be at least five times that amount, and it is entirely possible, if not likely, that the CO2 savings have a real-world value in excess of their upper range. 

The study found that in 2015, the central estimate for marginal benefit of wind translates to 4.0cents/kWh for solar power and 7.3 c/kWh for wind. The authors note that “these benefits are on par with, or in many cases greater than, recent direct prices paid for wind.”

Significantly, the health and climate benefits of the solar and wind farms will continue for decades. On the one hand, the marginal benefit of wind and solar will decline slowly over time as the grid gets cleaner, but at the same time, new wind and solar are dropping in price rapidly. So the net benefit will remain for a long time.

Finally, the authors write, “to the best of our knowledge, no study has fully quantified U.S. wind and solar benefits over the past decade.” But it is worth adding that even this LBNL study leaves out many benefits from wind and solar, including the jobs and economic growth spurred by the ongoing clean energy revolution — not to mention the value of sustaining U.S. leadership in what will certainly be one of the greatest job-creating industries of the coming decades.

So a study that fully quantified the benefits of renewables would no doubt find they greatly exceed the subsidies.

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