nuclear-news

The News That Matters about the Nuclear Industry

The value of wind and solar power to America’s health and environment

if you add up those central estimates, wind and solar saved Americans around $88 billion in health and environmental costs over eight years. Not bad.

Wind and solar power are saving Americans an astounding amount of money
Not getting sick and dying from pollution is worth quite a bit, it turns out.
 VOX,  by  Aug 18, 2017 Wind and solar power are subsidized by just about every major country in the world, either directly or indirectly through tax breaks, mandates, and regulations.

The main rationale for these subsidies is that wind and solar produce, to use the economic term of art, “positive externalities” — benefits to society that are not captured in their market price. Specifically, wind and solar power reduce pollution, which reduces sickness, missed work days, and early deaths. Every wind farm or solar field displaces some other form of power generation (usually coal or natural gas) that would have polluted more.

Subsidies for renewables are meant to remedy this market failure, to make the market value of renewables more accurately reflect their total social value.

This raises an obvious question: Are renewable energy subsidies doing the job? That is to say, are they accurately reflecting the size and nature of the positive externalities?

That turns out to be a devilishly difficult question to answer. Quantifying renewable energy’s health and environmental benefits is super, super complicated. Happily, researchers at the Lawrence Berkeley Lab have just produced the most comprehensive attempt to date. It contains all kinds of food for thought, both in its numbers and its uncertainties.

(Quick side note: Just about every country in the world also subsidizes fossil fuels. Globally, fossil fuels receive far more subsidies than renewables, despite the lack of any policy rationale whatsoever for such subsidies. But we’ll put that aside for now.)

Here’s how much wind and solar saved in health and environmental costs

The researchers studied the health and environmental benefits of wind and solar in the US between 2007 (when the market was virtually nothing) and 2015 (after years of explosive market growth).

Specifically, they examined how much wind and solar reduced emissions of four main pollutants — sulfur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxides (NOx), fine particulate matter (PM2.5), and carbon dioxide (CO2) — over that span of years. The goal was to understand not only the size of the health and environmental benefits, but their geographical distribution and how they have changed over time.

To cut to the chase, let’s review the top-line conclusions:

  • From 2007 to 2015, wind and solar in the US reduced SO2, NOx, and PM2.5 by 1.0, 0.6, and 0.05 million tons respectively;
  • reduction of those local air pollutants helped avoid 7,000 premature deaths (the central estimate in a range from 3,000 to 12,700);
  • those avoided deaths, along with other public health impacts, are worth a cumulative $56 billion (the central estimate in a range from $30 to $113 billion);
  • wind and solar also reduced CO2 emissions, to the tune of $32 billion in avoided climate costs (the central estimate in a range from $5 to $107 billion).

So, if you add up those central estimates, wind and solar saved Americans around $88 billion in health and environmental costs over eight years. Not bad.

That number is worth reflecting on, but first let’s talk a second about how they came up with it.

Uncertainties abound in measuring positive externalities

Tallying up these benefits is difficult for all sorts of reasons………

In all those steps, there are uncertainties and ranges, some having to do with the limitations of models, some having to do with the limitations of our understanding of the impacts of pollution, some having to do with difficult-to-quantify intangibles like the value of a human life.

These uncertainties explain the wide range of estimates involved: premature mortalities range from 3,000 to 12,700; local pollution impacts from $30 to $113 billion; CO2 climate impacts from $5 to $107 billion. (It’s worth saying that there are good reasons to think most SCC estimates are lowballing — certainly $5 billion is ludicrous.)……..

Wind and solar benefits vary over time and from place to place

If you dig into the paper, you find that the most interesting data has to do with the variations in benefits across regions and over time.

It’s complex, but in a nutshell, the health and environmental benefits of wind and solar vary depending on what other sources are being displaced, and how much, and when…….

Wind and solar effects also varied widely by region, because some regions have cleaner power sectors than others. In California, wind and solar are mostly displacing natural gas. In the upper Midwest and mid-Atlantic regions, which rely more heavily on coal, wind and solar have greater impact……. https://www.vox.com/energy-and-environment/2017/8/18/16160456/wind-solar-power-saving-money

Advertisements

August 21, 2017 - Posted by | renewable, USA

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: