Healthy planet, healthy you: Investing in new energy solutions proves a boon for health and climate.

Healthy planet, healthy you: Investing in new energy solutions proves a boon for health and climate.

Energy efficiency and renewable energy installation produce both public health and climate benefits. These benefits also have significant dollar values that can be estimated using an integrated model assessment, a recent study says.

Original Paper:
Buonocore, Jonathan J., et al. (2016). "Health and climate benefits of different energy-efficiency and renewable energy choices." Nature Climate Change, 6: 100-105. DOI:

The production and use of fossil fuels are largely responsible for increased greenhouse gas emissions and subsequent global warming. A 2014 summary report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) states that emissions of carbon dioxide from fossil fuel combustion and industrial processes have contributed roughly 78 percent of the total increase in greenhouse gas emissions from 1970 to 2010. This finding, coupled with increasing population growth, is troubling to those who seek to confront drivers of climate change.

Advocates for climate change action often cite the adoption of energy efficiency (EE) and renewable energy (RE) as viable solutions. Implementing EE/RE technologies displaces harmful emissions from fossil fuel-derived electricity generating units (EGUs), which carry pollutants such as sulfur dioxide andnitrogen oxide, which impact ambient concentrations of major public health hazards. Thus, reducing emissions leads to a reduction of particulate matter. In addition to mitigating climate damages, it is clear that EE/RE implementation positively affects public health outcomes. How do these relationships translate to dollar values?

A team of scholars, led by Jonathan J. Buonocore from the Harvard Center for Health and the Global Environment, has begun investigating this question. There is strong consensus that benefits from EE/RE installation vary by type and location due mostly to their generation capacity, geographic placement, characteristics of their electric grids, and the populations that utilize them.

In a recent paper published in Nature Climate Change, the authors developed a model to estimate the public health and climate benefits of four different EE/RE installation types across six different locations. Ranging from within the Mid-Atlantic to the Lower Great Lakes of the United States, the Environmental Policy Simulation Tool for Electrical grid INterventions (EPSTEIN) model links economic outputs of electrical dispatches to a public health impact assessment model.

The team chose six separate geographic regions to examine: northern Ohio, Virginia, Pennsylvania, lower New Jersey, Cincinnati, and Chicago. For each region, the study estimated the dollar cost of healthcare delivered due to pollution. The authors observed changes from replacing a coal fired plant with either a wind-powered plant or a 50-megawatt solar plant, or from reorganizing two separate pollution reduction systems limiting the amount of electricity meted through to consumers. The team also examined the impacts these projects would have on the amount of electricity generated and the level of greenhouse gas emissions.

Each region yielded different benefits depending on population density and baseline pollution levels. Overall annual benefits ranged from $5.7 million to $210 million. These results emphasize the belief that location-specific information can substantially improve estimate accuracy. Policymakers and planners can look to these results when forecasting potential health benefits from transitioning beyond fossil-fuel power generation.

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