When it comes to renewable energy, the benefits extend beyond just literally helping the environment. For example, over the span of increased installations of wind and solar power since 2007, it’s improved air quality everywhere. Based on an analysis report by Nature Energy, those advantages could have saved up to 12,700 lives in the United States.
A number of researchers evaluated the climate and benefits of wind and solar generation in a period between 2007 and 2015. Over that time, generation has grown from 35,000 gigawatt-hours to an enormous 227,000 gigawatt-hours, over a 73 percent increase in eight years. California used to be a renewable generation powerhouse, but especially in the solar industry their share has dropped compared to other regions from 87 percent to 63 percent.
Not only did emissions saved from sustainable energy generation produce up to $107.9 billion in the study period, but up to 12,200 people avoided an early death from wind generation itself. Anywhere from 100 to 500 people were saved thanks to solar energy. At the very least, the study suggests that over 3,000 people benefitted from better air quality.
Nearly a 10,000-people difference is a pretty large range, but it’s hard to exactly determine how many lives would be lost. Different locations had different results in terms of air benefits, and California had the smallest benefit with so much smog congesting their bigger urban areas. The Mid-Atlantic states -- Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, and Delaware -- “saw the largest air quality and climate wind benefits” according to the report.
These figures were determined by how much emissions were avoided from not only carbon dioxide, but also sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and atmospheric particulate matter. The first three’s avoided emissions have ramped up considerably in wind and solar. For example, over 22.3 million metric tons of CO2 emissions were eliminated in 2007 compared to a whopping 147 million avoided in 2015.
That hasn’t been the same for particulate matter, which has gone up and down over the years. Tons of small inhalable particles that measure in at 2.5 micrometers or smaller can get into people’s lungs. The smaller these are, the further they can get into the system and create issues like irregular heartbeat, breathing issues, and heart attacks. Particles have gone down from wind generation since 2011, and finally solar energy saw a decrease from 2014 to 2015.
In good news, the overall air quality has improved from 2000 to 2016. According to the EPA, there’s been a 42 percent decrease in PM2.5 in the United States. Both the Ohio Valley and Southeast regions of the country have seen the most decrease with 48 percent.