Oxfam International

Coal to solar switch could save 52,000 US lives per year.

Swapping out coal energy for solar would prevent 52,000 premature deaths in the United States every year.

Swapping out coal energy for solar would prevent 52,000 premature deaths in the United States every year, according to a new analysis from Michigan Technological University.


Amid all the talk from the Trump Administration that regulations targeting coal are hurting people, this shows "many more lives are saved by phasing out coal," said Liz Perera, climate policy director for the Sierra Club, who was not involved in the study.

In addition the savings in health care costs added to the value of the solar electricity could in some cases bring in money, offsetting the costs of the switch.

“Evolving the U.S. energy system utilizing clean, alternative technology will allow the U.S. to prevent thousands of premature deaths along with becoming a global leader in renewable technology adoption," the authors wrote in the study published in the journal Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews.

Michigan Tech University researchers analyzed peer-reviewed health studies and calculated lives lost per kilowatt hour to coal each year—finding approximately 51,999 people die due to coal pollutants that spur respiratory, heart and brain problems.

“Coal-fired pollution harms human life. It kills people," said senior author Joshua Pearce, a researcher and professor at Michigan Tech University's Department of Materials Science and Engineering. “From an American perspective this transition [from coal to solar] makes complete sense."

Pearce and Michigan Tech Ph.D student Emily Prehoda calculated it would take 755 gigawatts of solar energy at a cost of $1.45 trillion to replace all current coal power. That would be a significant bump up from the current 22.7 gigawatts of solar power in the U.S.

"Coal-fired pollution harms human life, it kills people." -Joshua Pearce, Michigan Tech University

The averages about $1.1 million invested per life. That cost, however, doesn't take into account solar's value. When the energy pumped into the grid is combined with the health care savings, a switch to solar would actually end up saving money, Pearce said.

He estimates that using a net metering system that credits commercial solar energy system users would actually bring in $1.5 million for every life saved and a residential net metering would bring in more than $2 million per life saved.

Solar's growth, and coal's decline, is undeniable. A report from the International Renewable Energy Agency last week estimated that solar jobs were up 82 percent over the past three years.

There are now about 260,000 solar jobs in the U.S., compared to just 51,000 in coal mining.

But solar only accounts for about 1.5 percent of the nation's electricity. Pearce said that's due to two things: inertia and policy. Citing a local example he said he and other professors were helping people near their university get solar power at their homes and the biggest obstacle is the local regulations on how much solar can be put into the grid.

“It's rules like this that are stopping people from doing it individually," he said. “I have Republican friends who installed solar—not to save the whales or anything, but to save money."

And on the national level President Trump has been all-in on coal use.

Trump signed an executive order earlier this year to rescind the Clean Power Plan—currently on hold as it is litigated—which requires power plants to cut carbon emissions 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030.

And just last week Trump announced that he would pull the U.S. out of the Paris climate agreement, saying the accord would “decapitate" the U.S. coal industry.

He gave a nod to coal country saying he was putting Pittsburgh before Paris.(Pittsburgh has committed to powering itself by 100 percent renewable energy by 2035.)

But researchers say Trump and other pro-coal supporters are fighting an uphill battle.

"Trump can't stop the will of the market and the will of the people to choose clean energy," Perera said.

Print Friendly and PDF
SUBSCRIBE TO EHN'S MUST-READ DAILY NEWSLETTER: ABOVE THE FOLD
Senator James Inhofe (R-Okla.) in February 2019. (Credit: School of Media and Public Affairs at GWU)
Originals

Peter Dykstra: Happy birthday, Senator Inhofe!

On November 17, 1934, Blanche and Perry Inhofe of Des Moines, Iowa, delivered a lasting gift to climate denial. James Mountain Inhofe (the imposing middle name is actually his Mom's maiden name) came into the world.

Keep reading... Show less
Originals

Clouded in Clarity: A comic on chemicals & controversy

Harmful chemicals are difficult to understand. So, to pair with our investigation, "Exposed" we present EHN's first comic, "Clouded in Clarity," which focuses on BPA and the controversy around an ongoing, massive study on it.

Keep reading... Show less
Originals

Exposed: How willful blindness keeps BPA on shelves and contaminating our bodies

We all are exposed daily to bisphenol-A (BPA) and other bisphenols – estrogen-like substances added to food can liners, paper receipts and plastic containers.

Keep reading... Show less
BPA testing in the lab of Cheryl Rosenfeld, a University of Missouri researcher. (Credit: Cheryl Rosenfeld)
Originals

Exposed: A scientific stalemate leaves our hormones and health at risk

This is part 1 of a 4-part investigation of the science surrounding the chemical BPA and the U.S. regulatory push to discredit independent evidence of harm while favoring pro-industry science despite significant shortcomings.

Keep reading... Show less
Researcher Pat Hunt at her Washington State University lab. (Credit: Lynne Peeples)
Originals

Exposed: On the edge of research honesty

This is part 2 of a 4-part investigation of the science surrounding the chemical BPA and the U.S. regulatory push to discredit independent evidence of harm while favoring pro-industry science despite significant shortcomings.

Keep reading... Show less
Researcher Pat Hunt with lab mice in her Washington State University lab. (Credit: Lynne Peeples)
Originals

Exposed: Deciphering the real message about BPA

This is part 3 of a 4-part investigation of the science surrounding the chemical BPA and the U.S. regulatory push to discredit independent evidence of harm while favoring pro-industry science despite significant shortcomings.

Keep reading... Show less
Valspar cans. (Credit Lynne Peeples)
Originals

Exposed: Toward a BPA-free future

This is part 4 of a 4-part investigation of the science surrounding the chemical BPA and the U.S. regulatory push to discredit independent evidence of harm while favoring pro-industry science despite significant shortcomings.

Keep reading... Show less
From our Newsroom

Above The Fold

Daily & Weekly newsletters all free.