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Health and climate benefits of different energy-efficiency and renewable energy choices


Energy efficiency (EE) and renewable energy (RE) can benefit public health and the climate by displacing emissions from fossil-fuelled electrical generating units (EGUs). Benefits can vary substantially by EE/RE installation type and location, due to differing electricity generation or savings by location, characteristics of the electrical grid and displaced power plants, along with population patterns. However, previous studies have not formally examined how these dimensions individually and jointly contribute to variability in benefits across locations or EE/RE types. Here, we develop and demonstrate a high-resolution model to simulate and compare the monetized public health and climate benefits of four different illustrative EE/RE installation types in six different locations within the Mid-Atlantic and Lower Great Lakes of the United States. Annual benefits using central estimates for all pathways ranged from US$5.7–US$210 million (US$14–US$170 MWh−1), emphasizing the importance of site-specific information in accurately estimating public health and climate benefits of EE/RE efforts.

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Figure 1: Total impacts offset by emission type for each EE/RE installation type and location.
Figure 2: The fraction of electricity generation displaced by fuel type for each EE/RE installation type and location.
Figure 3: Emissions per unit electricity generated for power plants offset by EE/RE installation.
Figure 4: Impacts per ton emitted of SO2 and NOx for power plants offset by EE/RE installation.


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This work was supported by a grant from The Heinz Endowments (Grant number C2988), the Charles F. Wilinsky award at Harvard School of Public Health, and funds from the Mark and Catherine Winkler Foundation. This research is dedicated to the memory of P. R. Epstein.

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J.J.B., P.L., J.I.L., J.F. and B.B. designed the research. J.J.B. and P.L. carried out analyses. All authors contributed to interpretation of results and writing the paper.

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Correspondence to Jonathan J. Buonocore.

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Buonocore, J., Luckow, P., Norris, G. et al. Health and climate benefits of different energy-efficiency and renewable energy choices. Nature Clim Change 6, 100–105 (2016).

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