Researchers and energy experts for years have toted the obvious environmental benefits of transitioning from fossil-fuel based energy to renewable technologies, such as wind and solar; but a new study out of Michigan Technology University has calculated the tremendous health benefits of this renewable energy transition, and the results are overwhelming.
The new study published in Renewable & Sustainable Energy Reviews calculates the cost of combusting coal in terms of human lives, as well as the potential health benefits of switching to solar. The study, straightforwardly entitled “Potential Lives Saved by Replacing Coal with Solar Photovoltaic Electricity Production in the U.S.” found that transitioning from coal to solar would save nearly 52,000 lives in the United States each year.
These 52,000 avoided deaths are the result of medical conditions associated with
exposure to coal combustion, including asthma, lung cancer, heart attacks, and strokes. The study also found that the cost of saving these lives by investing in solar power would be about $1.1 million each, or in some cases, several million dollars per life, a result of avoided costs spent on these medical conditions.
Researchers gathered data from peer-reviewed journals and the Environmental Protection Agency to calculate US deaths per kilowatt hour per year for both coal and solar energy. They the used current costs of solar installations from the Department of Energy to calculate returns on investment. The study found that external costs of using coal to generate electricity amount to about 27¢/kWh. By contract, CleanTechnica, the #1 cleantech-focused website in the US, recently found the cost of solar plus storage technology to be only about 6.9¢/kWh, including incentives. The numbers are clear: solar energy is far safer for humans and the environment than coal-combustion energy.
Additionally, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are about 51,000 coal mining jobs in the U.S. today. This figure is only slightly below the number of people killed each year by the material those miners produce. These miners themselves are at the greatest risk of health problems associated with perpetual exposure to coal.
With mounting evidence that a transition to renewable energy technology is environmentally beneficial, this study adds to the evidence demonstrating both the health and fiscal benefits of switching from coal to solar. Lead researcher, Joshua Pearce, puts it best: "My overall take away from this study is that if we're rational and we care about American lives—or even just money—then it's time to end coal in the US."