Climate Change Watch: Renewable energy facilities in Upper Midwest and Great Lakes can reduce climate change impact

Switching to clean energy in high-carbon emission regions like Great Lakes and Upper Midwest can increase climate and health benefits four fold than in California.

                            Climate Change Watch: Renewable energy facilities in Upper Midwest and Great Lakes can reduce climate change impact

Benefits from renewable energy will go up by at least four times in the US if the facilities are installed in specific locations, according to scientists from Harvard University. Installing wind turbines in the Upper Midwest regions and solar power in the Great Lakes and Mid-Atlantic regions can soften the blow of climate change, by allowing Americans to lead healthier lives, while also saving the environment.

Using renewables in these regions can prove to be cost-effective, says the team. And to ensure that, Drew Michanowicz, the author of the study and a research fellow at Harvard C-CHANGE thinks it is crucial to focus on the location where renewables are built. 

Some states from the Great Lakes and Upper Midwest regions are notorious for their carbon emissions. Switching to renewable energy may change fortunes: for people living in the Upper Midwest, the climate and health benefits of renewable energy are about four times higher than in California, finds the study. The benefits could range from $28 per MWh of energy produced from wind in California to $113 per MWh of wind in the Upper Midwest and for utility-scale solar in the Great Lakes and Mid-Atlantic.

The authors make the case for renewables' role in health, stressing that it should be factored in while assessing the full benefits of these projects. In many cases, the health and climate benefits are greater than the financial costs of installing wind or solar, they add.

"One thing this study highlights is the often overlooked health benefits of installing renewables. In many cases, health benefits are much more salient to people than climate benefits", Jonathan Buonocore, the lead author and a research associate at Harvard C-CHANGE, told MEA WordWide (MEAWW).

So, the authors argue that renewable energy improves the quality of the air and offers a multitude of health benefits, the bulk of which could be due to a drop in premature deaths. Other benefits include reduced impacts of droughts, extreme weather events, sea-level rise, displacement of refugees, disruptions to farming, and climate-related diseases, they add.

In the study, the Harvard team developed a tool that modeled the ten regions of the US electrical grid. Using the social cost of carbon - which assigns a dollar value to the negative consequences of climate change - they calculated the benefits of carbon dioxide reduction for each region and energy type. 

They predict that wind turbines in the Upper Midwest and solar power in the Great Lakes and Mid-Atlantic regions offer maximum benefits. "We tested wind and solar in all regions of the US, and those are the combinations of technology and location that ended up having the highest benefits", Buonocore told MEAWW.

This is because these regions produce a lot of coal. Swapping coal with renewables could be more rewarding here, compared to regions that already use relatively safer alternatives, for instance, California, a natural gas site.

"This tool can help state and national policymakers design better climate plans by understanding where to build wind and solar, while also helping private groups, like utilities, renewable energy developers, and even investors, decide where to deploy their resources to maximize the gains from renewable energy", explains Buonocore.

The study has been published in Environmental Research Letters.

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