An increase in renewable energy use and tighter regulation have helped prevent up to 12,700 deaths in the United States over a nine-year period, new research has revealed.
Between 2007 and 2015, solar and wind power capacity increased in the US from just 10GW to around 100GW.
A new study published in the Nature Energy journal claims that this ten-fold growth, coupled with changes in fossil fuel price and regulation, had the knock-on effect of preventing up premature deaths thanks to a significant reduction in emissions and subsequent air quality improvement.
The US Department of Energy-funded research found that carbon dioxide emissions fell by 20% in the period, while sulphur oxide and nitrogen oxide plummeted by 72% and 50%, respectively. Tiny particulate matter decreased by 46%.
Researchers estimated that “cumulative wind and solar air-quality benefits” in the 2007-2015 period totalled between $29 billion and $112 billion.
They also claimed that between $5.3 and $106.8 billion was saved in “cumulative climate benefits” thanks to increased renewables use.
The massive financial savings were calculated by including costs that would be incurred due to healthcare bills and “changes to agricultural productivity, energy use, losses from disasters such as floods and general ecosystem services”.
The study also highlighted that tighter regulation also contributed to emissions reduction, citing a rule that meant coal power plants had to fit new control technologies to bring their facilities in line with air quality standards.
As a result, sulphur dioxide fell from 9 million tonnes in 2007 to just over 2 million in 2015 and the study estimates that 1,850 premature deaths were prevented in that year alone, thanks to this mix of factors.
It is estimated that fossil fuel combustion costs the lives of 6.5 million people globally every year, as a result of associated health problems like strokes, heart attacks, cancer and lung disease.
A recent study by the Health and Environment Alliance NGO estimated that health costs in the G20 countries are six times higher than fossil fuel subsidies. It found that the world’s wealthiest nations are picking up a trillion-dollar healthcare bill.