The rollout of renewable energy across the US has earnt its costs back through savings on public health thanks to the cleaner air it enabled, according to a study published last week by researchers at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
The researchers found that between 3,000 and 12,700 premature deaths have been averted between 2007 and 2015, thanks to improved air quality as renewables are increasingly favoured over fossil fuels such as coal for electricity generation.
Financial savings from better air quality – including avoided deaths, fewer sick days and climate change mitigation – amounted to between $35bn and $220bn over the same period, the researchers concluded.
Using the central predictions from the scientists, the most likely savings total around $88bn, or seven cents per kWh for wind and four cents per kWh for solar – roughly the total federal and state subsidy support for the two technologies.
“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,” lead author Dr Dev Millstein concluded.
However, the report authors also point out that the benefits and costs of renewables technologies vary widely by region. For example in California, where the rollout of solar is largely displacing gas off the electricity grid, air quality gains are relatively low. In comparison the deployment of wind in the upper Midwest and mid-Atlantic regions is having a much more tangible impact on local air quality as it cuts the proportion of coal burnt for electricity.