Photo by: Pixabay user Seagul

Regional renewable electricity projects and energy efficiency measures could have health benefits worth millions of dollars a year.


Why it Matters: Creating electricity from low-carbon energy sources—and cutting energy demand—reduces the need for fossil fuel power generation. That in turn lowers emissions of harmful gases like nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, and carbon dioxide. Health benefits of this change include reducing premature death, heart attack, asthma exacerbation, or hospitalization for cardiovascular or respiratory issues.

The Research: Researchers from Harvard Chan School created a way to calculate the monetary value of a wind and a solar energy project, as well as two strategies aimed at reducing energy usage in the Mid-Atlantic and Lower Great Lakes regions of the United States in 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 Cincinnati has a larger population density downwind of power plants. Since the city relies largely on coal-fired electricity, replacing any of that with renewable sources magnifies the effects on human health. Likewise, a solar installation near Cincinnati would be almost three times as beneficial as one near Chicago because it displaces sulfur dioxide emissions from coal.

By the Numbers: The financial benefit of implementing such strategies ranged from $5.7 to $210 million dollars per year, depending on the project type and location. The researchers suggest that their tool could be used to make decisions about which energy and environmental policies to implement in other areas across the United States.


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Dr. Aaron Bernstein

Aaron Bernstein MD, MPH

Aaron examines the human health effects of global environmental changes with the aim of promoting a deeper understanding of these subjects among students, educators, policy makers, and the public.

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Jonathan Buonocore Sc.D

Jonathan focuses on the health, environmental, and climate impacts of energy, and the benefits of reducing carbon emissions—commonly called “health co-benefits.”

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Drew Michanowicz DrPH, CPH

Drew’s research interests are related to poorly understood and emerging environmental hazards on both global- and community-level scales.

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