renewable energy: from the new record Germany broke by generating 35% of power from renewables in first half of 20171 to the fact that renewables investment remains larger than that for all fossil fuels2. And this is good news for our climate and environment: with increasing energy demand, renewable forms of energy enable us to fuel our needs with remarkably low greenhouse gas emissions especially when compared to fossil fuels. Indeed, renewable energy is one of the most effective tools we have to fight climate change. What is more, with the cost of generating electricity from wind and solar declining by 58% and 78%, respectively, since 2009, renewables are an affordable solution while still benefiting from fewer subsidies compared to fossil fuels3.
But is this all that renewable energy is good for? Well, it also provides us with a number of health benefits which we all too often forget to acknowledge.
Renewable energy is good for our health
A key health benefit is that our air and atmosphere would no longer be polluted by greenhouse gases, but also by other pollutants which are emitted by fossil fuel plants or through the combustion of fossil fuels through transport.
According to studies, the total national economic impact associated with health impacts linked to fossil fuels ranges between $361.7 and $886.5 billion, which accounts to up to 6% of the US’s GDP 4.
But it is not just air pollution that would drop; our waters would also stand to gain. Because wind and solar energy require essentially no water to operate, there would be a reduction in water use and pollution which would make more resources available for drinking water as well as economic sectors such as agriculture.
Researchers indicate that some common diseases linked to air and water pollution include:
- breathing problems,
- neurological damage,
- heart attacks,
- and cancer.
The incidence of these diseases is increasing while studies, such as the one from the Clean Energy and Climate Change Office of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency found that in the US, citizens spend an estimated $361.7 to $886.5 billion each year on health for conditions related to the use of fossil fuels5.
If the incidence of these diseases was reduced, there would be a number of benefits: apart of the better health and quality of life of those people currently suffering from those diseases, there would be additional funds available by public authorities which could be spent in other areas of healthcare or research into other diseases. So this in turn would provide further health benefits.
Fossil fuels are slow and quiet killers
It is important to bear in mind the impact on lives that the continued use of fossil fuels has. For many people, the environmental effects of climate change seem as something that is too far removed from their lives, but when it comes to health, it is easy to make the connection. And it is important to highlight the damage incurred by fossil fuels: a 2013 MIT study found that in the United States, air pollution accounts for approximately 200,000 premature deaths per year, with electricity generation contributing to 52,000 of those deaths6.
These are all deaths that could be prevented if we were to switch to renewables.
That’s when new tools maximize health benefits of communities…
But scientists now have a greater degree of detail in terms of how renewables can bring about health benefits. Apart from estimating the number of deaths that could be prevented and the money that could be saved by investing in renewables, Harvard University researchers are developing an approach for how we can target renewables investment so that it can deliver the highest health benefits to the local population6.
According to Jonathan Buonocore, lead author of today’s Nature Climate Change study and program leader for climate, energy, and health at Harvard’s School of Public Health, the team looked into 24 different scenarios and on the basis of their results they were able to quantify benefits to health as ranging from $5.7 million to $210 million per year6. What is more, by evaluating the specific situations in four different renewable energy and energy efficiency installations in six locations in the US, the scientists developed a model to simulate and compare the climate and health benefits of each. The model, which has been dubbed Environmental Policy Simulation Tool for Electrical grid Interventions, or EPSTEIN, can be used to make policy decisions about where renewable energy installations should be set up in order to maximize their health benefits.
With such technologically advanced tools to ensure that the deployment of renewables can be successful for both climate and health, there is no reason to think that the renewables revolution will not be successful!