Two weeks ago, the English power grid set a new record in renewable energy production, with over half of its electricity coming from those sources. Last week, the US renewable energy sector did something it had never done before: it produced 10% of the national grid’s power. Although that may not sound like much, it coincided with other reports from across the industry, and indeed across the world, that coal-based energy was effectively dying down.
The sector’s growth has skyrocketed past its expected growth, due in part to heavy investments from India and China. Bloomberg recently reported that the world had seen the biggest recorded drop in coal consumption in 2016, with countries beginning to shift their energy portfolios to a more green power source. In addition to reducing greenhouse gases, it is also expected to reduce health risks and save countries a lot of money, as a study recently published by the Michigan Technological University shows. Per study author Joshua Pearce:
“Unlike other public health investments, you get more than lives saved. In addition to saving lives, solar is producing electricity, which has economic value. Everybody wants to avoid wasting money. Just based on the pure value of electricity of the sensitivities we looked at, it’s profitable to save lives by eliminating coal with solar.”
Pearce explains that a reduction of coal-based pollution would improve the health of those living in the immediate surroundings, including the miners working within the industry. It would also improve several environmental aspects such as water and air quality as well as the physical damage caused by the mining process. The World Health Organization estimates that around 7 million people die worldwide as a result of air-pollution from coal burning.
The study argues that swapping to solar energy, which is well within the reach of many coal-dependent countries, it would reduce overall costs, improve health, improve the environment and reduce the pressure on health systems. The question we are left with is then a moral one – is the money generated from coal more important than the health of people and the environment when a cheaper, less invasive source of energy is available?
Pearce should be happy to see that it seems most countries have heeded the calls of scientists and engineers for a more responsible source of energy as shown by the myriad of international reports citing dips in coal consumption and a corresponding uptick in the installation and use of renewable energy.