Renewable energy projects can improve health

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Renewable electricity projects and energy efficiency measures could have health benefits worth millions of dollars a year, according to a new study published August 31, 2015 in Nature Climate Change.

Researchers from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health developed an assessment tool that calculated the public health and climate benefits of renewable or energy efficiency installations in the Mid-Atlantic and Lower Great Lakes region of the United States for 2012. Depending on the project type and location, the benefits ranged from $5.7 to $210 million per year. For example, a wind installation near Cincinnati was twice as beneficial as one in Virginia, largely because of Cincinnati’s higher downwind population density and greater reduction in coal-fired electricity. Jonathan Buonocore, research associate at Center For Health and the Global Environment at Harvard Chan School and lead author of the study, told IEEE Spectrum that “how much coal is being displaced, and how many people live downwind of that coal plant” are the main drivers in how much benefit can be realized from renewable energy or efficiency measures.

Buonocore says the model, dubbed Environmental Policy Simulation Tool for Electrical grid Interventions, or EPSTEIN, could be used to make policy decisions about where renewable energy projects should be installed in order to maximize their benefits.