Solar, Wind Adoption Led to Measurable Public Health, Economic Benefits: Report

Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) researchers have found quantifiable public health and economic benefits of accelerated adoption of solar and wind energy in the U.S. from 2019 to 2022, underscoring the economic and social importance of decarbonization.

In a new approach that assessed wind and solar energy benefits beyond their generation costs, subsidies, and electricity market value, LBNL researchers used publicly available data to determine more than three times higher societal costs of transitioning to cleaner energy.

In the recently published study in the Cell Press journal, the researchers said wind and solar power reduced CO₂ emissions by 900 million metric tons and SO₂ and NOₓ emissions by 1 million metric tons.

These reductions translated to $249 billion in climate and health benefits from 2019 to 2022. The average climate and health benefits were $143/MWh for wind and $100/MWh for solar in 2022.

In addition to renewables displacing 0.89 MWh of fossil generation per MWh of wind and 0.76 MWh per MWh of solar generation, researchers also found that wind and solar generation led to 1,200 to 1,600 fewer premature mortalities in 2022.

The study found that 1 MWh of wind generation offsets 0.89 MWh of fossil generation (0.29 MWh of coal and 0.60 MWh of gas generation), and 1 MWh of solar generation offsets 0.76 MWh of fossil generation (0.14 MWh of coal and 0.62 MWh of gas generation).

The study said that if they accounted for the solar energy shifted in time through storage, the solar emission benefits would be larger.

“In 2022, we could calculate an upper bound of this effect by assuming all early-evening (4 pm through 9 pm, Pacific Standard Time) battery discharge derived from stored solar energy. Battery discharge during this time period amounted to 5% of total solar output in 2022, indicating that batteries still have a minimal impact on total solar emission impacts. With continued storage deployment, this issue is likely to become more prominent in future years,” it said.

Though earlier studies demonstrated that wind and solar generation provide substantial health and climate benefits, this research provides an update by accounting for recent changes in the electricity system (including the continued growth of wind and solar to provide over 30% of total generation in some regions).

The U.S. added a record 42 GW of renewable energy capacity in 2023. The International Energy Agency estimated that the cumulative global capacity of renewables will touch 7.3 TW by 2028.

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