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Irina Slav

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Irina is a writer for the U.S.-based Divergente LLC consulting firm with over a decade of experience writing on the oil and gas industry.

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Switching From Coal To Solar Could Save 50,000 Lives


Replacing coal-fired power plants with solar power installations could save as many as 51,999 lives every year, a study from the Michigan Technological University has found. This is the number of people who will in all likelihood not die of things such as asthma and congestive heart failure resulting from harmful emissions from coal-fired plants.

Coal currently accounts for 30 percent of the U.S. energy mix, according to the Energy Information Administration. In terms of consumption, however, coal only accounted for 15 percent, almost all of it going into power generation. The fossil fuel is quickly losing share to natural gas, but is still a solid contributor to CO2 and other pollutants emissions – solid enough, according to the study’s authors, Emily Prehoda and Joshua Pierce, to kill more than 50,000 people on an annual basis.

Switching from fossil fuels to renewables is at the core of sustainability efforts. It also comes at a price, which Prehoda and Pierce have estimated at a total of US$1.45 trillion. This is the cost of installing 755 GW of new solar power generation capacity. Over a 25-year period—the length of the warranty on PV modules—this translates into US$1.1 million per life saved. It may not sound like a lot if it’s your life, but it is, the authors note, comparable to the value of a human life as estimated in other studies.

What’s more, solar power does not just come with costs. The US$1.1-million cost estimate is based on the premise that electricity has no value, which is not the case in reality. Both coal and solar are sources of revenues as well as electricity. So, the authors also calculated how much the switch will cost per life saved based on the residential retail power price of solar electricity in a rural area, namely Houghton, Michigan. The figure came in at a negative US$4.65 million per life saved. In other words, the authors argue, replacing coal with solar power under this scenario will actually save money, a lot more money than it will cost.

Related: Trump Flirting With The Idea Of A Federal Gasoline Tax Increase

Could this study provide additional motivation for those driving the shift to renewable energy? It certainly could, even though such motivation may not actually be necessary: the U.S. coal industry is in a natural decline that will only accelerate in the coming years. One example of this is an analysis of the industry’s eventual demise and the reasons for it from the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research, which suggests that the U.S. coal industry is not a victim of policy changes and regulations. Instead, its demise is chalked up to a natural and logical consequence of progress and the changes in energy consumption it brings with it.

Besides natural gas, solar power is one of the drivers of this demise, and its role will become even more important in the next couple of decades, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance. The service has estimated that the share of coal in the U.S. energy mix will fall to 15 percent by 2040. While old coal-fired plants are closed, gas-powered generation capacity will expand by 22 percent and renewable capacity will jump by an impressive 169 percent.

Now, as Bloomberg notes, this goes against a forecast from the EIA, which sees coal’s share pretty stable, even rising slightly to 31 percent by 2040, based on the Trump administration’s plans to prop up the coal industry. Yet, the BNEF says, this does not reflect the “economic realities over the next two decades.” Or as Energy & Capital author Megan Dailey wrote, “Forget the Paris Agreement and all the drama surrounding it. The country’s renewable industry doesn’t need a global initiative to keep right on growing.” Indeed, the U.S. is the third biggest spender on renewable energy in the world, behind China and India. The more uneconomical coal becomes, thanks to cheap alternatives from the solar, wind and other renewables, the closer the U.S. will get to saving those 51,999 lives every year.

By Irina Slav for Oilprice.com

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Leave a comment
  • NickSJ on June 19 2017 said:
    Another BS "study" designed to generate headlines like this one. More propaganda from the green religion.
  • KellyH on June 20 2017 said:
    First Solar works when the sun shines, wind works only when the wind blows 20 to 30 MPH, coal is at needed output 24/7. What part of the study addresses the 1000 s of diesel engines running when renewable don't operate at rated out put? May be New York city should just sit in the dark at those off peek renewable output hours.
  • aurelio on July 10 2017 said:
    Renewable energy tyrants will destroy thousands of jobs and reduce energy efficiency to "feel better" about themselves and brag of their moral superiority to their friends over cocktails.

    51,999 deaths could be prevented...a "solid enough" number according to the researchers...that represents 0,01% of the US population...a percentage so small it should serve as the basis for a complete overhaul of the economy...the brilliance of the left's reality-based logic.

    How will those wind farms and wind turbines provide energy to 300 million Americans with electric cars? I'm very intrigued as basic issues such as intermittent supply and battery storage and replacement plus maintenance costs suffice to cast doubt over the mass-scale implementation of these "highly reliable energy sources".

    Will common sense over reign supreme or have the ideologues won the war?
  • bill on August 11 2017 said:
    51,999 more Liberal Progressive Democrats per yer, burn the cola baby!!!!

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