Wind and solar energy are obviously essential in reducing carbon emissions, but they also have a remarkable side effect: saving lives.
As they edge out fossil fuels, renewables are reducing not just carbon emissions, but also other air pollutants.
And the result is an improvement in air quality, with a corresponding drop in premature deaths.
A paper in Nature Energy this week dives into the weeds by trying to estimate the economic benefits of wind and solar power across the whole of the US.
Berkeley environmental engineer Dev Millstein and his colleagues estimate that between 3,000 and 12,700 premature deaths have been averted because of air quality benefits over the last decade or so, creating a total economic benefit between $30 billion and $113 billion.
The benefits from wind work out to be more than 7¢ per kilowatt-hour, which is more than unsubsidized wind energy generally costs.
Death is in the air
Poor air quality is a tricky beast in public health, since it’s not obvious when someone dies as a result of air pollution.
The World Health Organization estimates that air pollution leads to around 7 million premature deaths globally each year—people dying earlier than they otherwise would have from heightened incidence of cancer, heart disease, and respiratory disease.
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