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  • Adam Dirth

Health Impacts Associated with Emissions

I will frequently hear podcast or read news articles that express if we were to reduce our fossil fuel consumption and the corresponding emissions associated with burning them then we could improve human health and reduce medical costs! I am sure many of you, including myself, would love to see the cost of health insurance go down. So how does that correlate to our energy consumption and how do we monetize the benefits of improved health for the populace? Well in the United States a certain governmental agency has found the answers to these questions, as outlined in the next section.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) AVoided Emissions and geneRation Tool (AVERT) and the CO-Benefits Risk Assessment (COBRA) tool can be used by state, local, and tribal entities to evaluate and communicate the air quality, health, and economic benefits of energy efficiency and renewable energy policies and programs. AVERT estimates county-level changes in power plant emissions, including fine particulate matter (PM2.5), nitrogen oxides (NOX), sulfur dioxide (SO2), carbon dioxide (CO2), volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and ammonia (NH3), resulting from the implementation of clean energy policies and programs. COBRA quantifies the air quality and health impacts of clean energy policies at the county, state, regional, or national levels and calculates the economic value of health-related benefits, such as reductions in cardiovascular and respiratory illness, fewer lost days of work, and decreased mortality rates.

I naturally wanted to test these programs out and apply them to the state of Texas. In 2021 Texas had an electrical grid capacity of about 90,000 Megawatts (MW) with 68% of that capacity consisting of fossil fuel sources (coal and natural gas). I decided to see what results I could achieve with very modest, but realistic changes to grid capacity and fuel sources. I decided to reduce the overall electricity consumption from the Texas grid by 1%, through energy efficiency measures, and to comprise total grid capacity from solar energy at 2% or 1,800 MW. Greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reduction from the AVERT simulation along with financial results from the COBRA application are shown in the figure below.StateS

Therefore, a very modest changing in how the Texas electrical grid operates can save over $50 million in healthcare cost annually. Imagine the savings that could be realized across the whole United States if our electrical grid produced zero GHG emissions!

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