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Earth Medicine Power The Almighty Buck United States Science Technology

The Health Benefits of Wind and Solar Exceed the Cost of All Subsidies (arstechnica.com) 432

New submitter TheCoroner writes: A paper in Nature Energy suggests that the benefits we receive from moving to renewables like wind and solar that reduce air pollution exceed the cost of the subsidies required to make them competitive with traditional fossil fuels. Ars Technica reports: "Berkeley environmental engineer Dev Millstein and his colleagues estimate that between 3,000 and 12,700 premature deaths have been averted because of air quality benefits over the last decade or so, creating a total economic benefit between $30 billion and $113 billion. The benefits from wind work out to be more than 7 cents per kilowatt-hour, which is more than unsubsidized wind energy generally costs.

This study ambitiously tries to estimate the benefits from emissions that were avoided because of the increase in wind and solar energy from 2007 through 2015, and to do so for the whole of the U.S. Millstein and colleagues looked at carbon emissions, as well as sulphur dioxides, nitrogen oxides, and particulate matter, all of which contribute to poor air quality. There are other factors that also need to be considered. A rise in renewables isn't the only thing that has been changing in the energy sector: fuel costs and regulation have also played a role. How much of the benefit can be attributed to wind and solar power, and how much to other changes? The researchers used models that track the benefits attributable to renewable power as a proportion of the total reduction in emissions.

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The Health Benefits of Wind and Solar Exceed the Cost of All Subsidies

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  • by Kaenneth ( 82978 ) on Thursday August 17, 2017 @10:31PM (#55038801) Homepage Journal

    But what if we make the world better for no reason?

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      But what if we make the world better for no reason?

      7 million dollars per death ? come on really?

      • by silentcoder ( 1241496 ) on Friday August 18, 2017 @08:52AM (#55040269)

        That's the EPA's standard figure based on the average total contribution a person makes to the economy over the course of an entire lifetime. It's not just how much you pay him to drive the bus - it's all the money every business loses if he doesn't show up to drive the bus because their workers can't get to the factory.

        And if there's a problem with that figure, it's that it's way out of date and hasn't been inflation adjusted since the study that produced it was done in the 1990s - the real figure from the same study would be a LOT higher now. But it remains the best studied, and most comprehensively an accurately calculated average financial value of a human life that exists in all of science.

        There's another problem with it though - it doesn't calculate the emotional loss to family members when you die, the lost productivity to the economy for your funeral and the reduced productivity as they deal with the many difficulties of grieving, the bad impacts when a primary breadwinner dies and a formerly self-sufficient family is forced to use welfare to make ends meet or any of those things.

        If you were to put a number on those losses, then even without inflation adjustment the number is probably low-balling it by at least 30%.

  • Mopar (Score:5, Funny)

    by PopeRatzo ( 965947 ) on Thursday August 17, 2017 @10:38PM (#55038813) Journal

    But what about the health benefits of me driving a '69 Charger Hemi R/T? It's great for my stress level and has cured my erectile dysfunction.

    • by amiga3D ( 567632 )

      Watch Vanishing Point. It has much the same effect.

    • But what about the health benefits of me driving a '69 Charger Hemi R/T? It's great for my stress level and has cured my erectile dysfunction.

      Wow. PopeRatzo, this is so unlike you. (Spoken as a friend.)

      All I can say is, finding a 21st-century ride might let you escape from winning the Darwin Award. ;-P

      • All I can say is, finding a 21st-century ride might let you escape from winning the Darwin Award. ;-P

        Darwin, isn't he that monkey guy?

        Let me tell you, I get so excited when I drive my Detroit iron that I don't even have to use my hands to steer. Which is handy when I need to pour myself a drink.

    • "But what about the health benefits of me driving a '69 Charger Hemi R/T? It's great for my stress level and has cured my erectile dysfunction." we hear it creates a penis extension too :)
    • Actually it is also good for the planet...I mean you keep a car from 69 that still runs....that beats anything. I'm greener than grass but this craziness 'buy new electric vehicle instead of running your old ICE for another decade' must stop....I bet they'll force us to buy new electric every 5 years cause you know the battery is better now and you save the world...wink wink...forced obsolescence....nudge nudge recover the RD costs of Elon the messiah...
      Anyone here wants to prove me bad for the environment

    • by houghi ( 78078 )

      Several petrol cars change the sound of the engine just so it sounds louder. (Some even use loudspeakers) There is no reason not to put on headphones that are linked to the throttle and have any sound you like, Including your semi enhancing Hemi sound and turn it all the way to 11.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    is it just me or when you read an article like this one does your "This is a crock of sh*t" alarm go off?

    Seems like about 1 million assumptions and taking estimates into facts and global averages into local and assuming 100 utilization of generation and zero pollution cost of manufacture and disposal of generation equipment. Plus probably more. I mean I love renewable energy but this article just smells bad despite all the clean renewable air.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Pseudonym ( 62607 )

      Science reporting often smells worse than the actual science it reports.

    • by naubol ( 566278 )

      is it just me or when you read an article like this one does your "This is a crock of sh*t" alarm go off?

      Seems like about 1 million assumptions and taking estimates into facts and global averages into local and assuming 100 utilization of generation and zero pollution cost of manufacture and disposal of generation equipment. Plus probably more. I mean I love renewable energy but this article just smells bad despite all the clean renewable air.

      Estimation can be a useful tool even in areas where estimation is highly susceptible to bias.

      • by ebyrob ( 165903 )

        Estimation can be a useful tool even in areas where estimation is highly susceptible to bias.

        Good point! For one thing, we now know a human life is worth 1 million dollars. So useful to know!!! And age and other factors don't matter! Also great to know. So enlightening.

    • This post reminded me of a an old energy study linked from /. with some ridiculous methodology (which I managed to dig up again):

      https://hardware.slashdot.org/... [slashdot.org]
      http://news.stanford.edu/news/... [stanford.edu]

      Here's TFA:

      "Once you have a nuclear energy facility, it's straightforward to start refining uranium in that facility, which is what Iran is doing and Venezuela is planning to do," Jacobson said. "The potential for terrorists to obtain a nuclear weapon or for states to develop nuclear weapons that could be used in limited regional wars will certainly increase with an increase in the number of nuclear energy facilities worldwide." Jacobson calculated that if one small nuclear bomb exploded, the carbon emissions from the burning of a large city would be modest, but the death rate for one such event would be twice as large as the current vehicle air pollution death rate summed over 30 years.

      So basically, to make Nuclear just fall off his chart, he assumes that building more powerplants will lead to nuclear war, and calculates how much stuff that will burn. Is that not completely absurd?

      Basically, the gist of what he's saying about Nuclear is this: "We have to pretend like it's a bad idea, because if we don't, other countries will want to do it, and then they might build bombs. So, say it with me: Nuclear is a baad idea."

      Does somebody want to break it to the guy that Iran and other states will pursue weapons programs no matter what sort of powerplants we build in the US? And besides, what's more likely to cause war: Clean and cost-effective nuclear powerplants that the rest of the world will want to copy, or an energy shortage which sends us looking to secure fossil fuels? I think the latter.

      Anyway, this calculating methodology is so incredibly bizarre that I suspect it's bought.

      So I'm always hearing about how the climate science community is rigorous and weeds out bad work, but that doesn't seem to have happened here. Maybe I'm looking in the wrong place, but it's been eight years and AFAICT this study was never retracted nor the lead scientist (Mark Z. Jacobson) confronted over it.

    • by Maxo-Texas ( 864189 ) on Friday August 18, 2017 @12:11AM (#55039075)

      I hear the point you are trying to make and there some validity to it if the study is suspect.

      But consider this.

      Any pollution associated with wind or solar or electricity generation is going to be highly localized. And it's going to be in one place - easier to scrub, filter, and contain.

      The only pollution from an electric vehicle going down the road is rubber from the tires (same as other vehicles) and brakes (which is about 1/10th as much due to regenerative braking.

      By comparison, internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles emits their own weight in pollutants into the atmosphere each year.
      Source: OHIO EPA.

      The following pollutants are in car exhaust:
      (If you skip to the bottom, you'll see PM10's are a huge threat from ICE vehicles.

      Pollutants from Car Exhaust

      CO2 â" carbon dioxide. This gas is naturally present in the atmosphere at low concentration (approximately 0.035%). It absorbs infrared energy and is thus a greenhouse gas (a contributor to global warming). Concentrations of CO2 in the earth's atmosphere appear to be increasing. This could have a substantial effect on the climate. The internal combustion engine contributes to the increased concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere. The effect of carbon dioxide, however, is felt worldwide. It does not have a great impact on the immediate urban environment2. Nor are car engines the greatest producers of this pollutant.

      CO â" carbon monoxide. The main source of CO in cities is the internal combustion engine, where it is produced by incomplete combustion. Anthropogenic sources account for approximately 6% of the 0.1 ppm concentration of CO in the earth's atmosphere globally. In an urban area, the concentration (and the percentage anthropogenic contribution) can be much higher. During a city rush hour, for example, concentrations of CO can reach 50 or even 100 ppm, which greatly exceeds the safe level. CO is highly toxic: it binds to haemoglobin more strongly than oxygen does, thus reducing the capacity of the haemoglobin to carry oxygen to the cells of the body. CO also has the nasty habit of sticking to haemoglobin and not coming off. This means that a fairly small amount of it can do a lot of damage.

      CO can be oxidised to the far less harmful CO2 if there is enough O2 available. At higher air-fuel ratios the level of CO emission goes down. The fuel has undergone complete, or more nearly complete, combustion. CO can also be oxidised to CO2 in a catalytic convertor.

      NOx â" oxides of nitrogen. While some nitrogen may be present in the fuel (as mentioned earlier), most oxides of nitrogen are produced when elemental nitrogen (N2) in the air3 is broken down and oxidised at high temperatures (approximately 1000 K or greater) and pressures within the internal combustion engine. Nitrogen monoxide (NO) is produced in higher concentration than nitrogen dioxide (NO2) but the two species are in any case interconvertible by means of photochemical interactions. Other oxides of nitrogen, such as N2O4, may occur; but are more rare. Because hydrocarbons compete with nitrogen for oxygen, NO is formed to a greater extent in cars with a 'lean mixture', that is, a low fuel-air ratio.

      NO and NO2 are toxic species. Oxides of nitrogen also play a major role in the formation of photochemical smog, which is discussed below.

      HC â" hydrocarbons. 'Much of the hydrocarbon fuel passes through the process unconsumed and is expelled into the atmosphere along with other exhaust fumes'. This remark was made earlier in passing. Fuel close to the wall of the combustion chamber may be quenched by the relative coolness of that area and not be burned. If the engine is poorly designed or is not in proper working order the proportion of unburned fuel rises. Hydrocarbons are also released to the atmosphere by evaporation from fuel tanks. Hydrocarbons can be dangerous to human health and are also part of the makeup and cause of photochemical smog, which is discussed below.

      C6H6 â" Benzene and its

    • Ya, but it sounds "truthy "

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 17, 2017 @10:50PM (#55038849)

    Of course, it has long been known that if the negative externalities of coal generation were factored in it would be way more expensive than other generation forms. Did they also count the concerns about coal ash storage, which has caused drinking water problems and even a flood of radioactive, toxic sludge in the case of the Tennessee Valley?

  • But if all those people don't die early, the rest of us will have to share the cost of their social security payments.

    • by amiga3D ( 567632 )

      In that case lets put the lead back in gasoline. I miss the 97 octane stuff anyway, I had to reduce the timing on my 383 Duster.

      • Lead gasoline causes expensive violence. Let's just make this efficient as possible and herd people into gas chambers on their retirement day. It'll have the added benefit of making lazy old folks work for longer productive years.

    • It's mostly infants.

  • by linuxguy ( 98493 ) on Thursday August 17, 2017 @11:12PM (#55038907) Homepage

    It should come as a no surprise that the stuff that comes out of tailpipes is not good for you to breathe. It can and does kill people. People who want to kill themselves quickly, breathe a lot of it in a short amount of time. The rest of us are doing it over a longer period of time.

    The sooner we switch away from a gas burning engine, the better.

    • by amiga3D ( 567632 )

      All we're waiting on is the damn batteries. Once we have the battery storage at an economical price the gas engine will be obsolete.

    • by Kjella ( 173770 )

      It should come as a no surprise that the stuff that comes out of tailpipes is not good for you to breathe. It can and does kill people. People who want to kill themselves quickly, breathe a lot of it in a short amount of time. The rest of us are doing it over a longer period of time.

      You can kill yourself by drinking lots of water in a short time, so drinking less over longer periods of time is clearly unhealthy. Your conclusion might be right, but your argumentation is sadly lacking.

  • by rsilvergun ( 571051 ) on Thursday August 17, 2017 @11:14PM (#55038919)
    and we create a better world for nothing?

    Jokes aside, at least in the US nothing's going to change unless our electoral system does. Right now about 55,000 coal miners in swing states are holding our national elections hostage trying to hold onto jobs made increasingly irrelevant by fracking and cheap natural gas... With our electoral system it doesn't matter how you vote because we don't weigh each person's vote equally. Which was after all the entire point. It keeps change to a minimum and protects landowner's interests.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by El Cubano ( 631386 )

      Right now about 55,000 coal miners in swing states are holding our national elections hostage trying to hold onto jobs made increasingly irrelevant by fracking and cheap natural gas...

      Your statement is provably false.

      According to the Wikipedia article on coal mining in the US [wikipedia.org], here are the top 10 coal producing states as of 2014, with their annual production numbers (millions of short tons) and their electoral vote allocations according the articles on the 2012 [wikipedia.org] and 2008 [wikipedia.org] US presidential elections:

      1. Wyoming 395.7, 2012 - Romney/Ryan (3), 2008 - McCain/Palin (3)
      2. West Virginia 112.2, 2012 - Romney/Ryan (5), 2008 - McCain/Palin (5)
      3. Kentucky 77.3, 2012 - Romney/Ryan (8), 2008 - McCain/Palin (8)
      4. Pe
  • by blindseer ( 891256 ) <blindseerNO@SPAMearthlink.net> on Thursday August 17, 2017 @11:15PM (#55038921)

    Even including the deaths from Chernobyl nuclear power has an impressive safety record. More people died from windmill and solar accidents per energy produced than nuclear.

    Sure, there were a lot of accidental deaths in the early days of nuclear power but it's making a lot of safe energy now. Wind and solar combined make very little energy, and you compare that to worker deaths from electrocutions and falls and nuclear has them beat by an order of magnitude on safety. Nuclear is better for the environment too, less carbon produced per energy than wind or solar. Pretty sure nuclear kills fewer birds and bats too.

    I just heard on the radio today of the health effects of the sound made by windmills. I think they called it "infrasound", it's the low frequency hum made by windmills that cause headaches, hearing loss, and all kinds of crazy stuff. Maybe that's a bunch of pseudoscience, I don't know.

    I see a lot of comparisons of wind and solar to coal and natural gas. Why not compare it to nuclear? I know why. By comparison wind and solar is expensive, dirty, deadly, and did I mention expensive?

    If these articles want to convince me that I need wind and solar power then they need to compare it to nuclear too. But they don't. Again, I know why.

    • Nuclear plants are incredibly expensive. But I'd say it's my preferred method of generation--if we reprocess (reuse) the fuel.

      • Nukes are base load.
        Gas turbines, wind, solar etc fill the gaps instead of directly competing with nukes.
        The nuke advocates that see solar and wind as a threat are just idiots charging at windmills who have forgotten that almost nothing has been spent on new nukes since long before wind and solar became viable on the grid.
    • by msevior ( 145103 ) on Friday August 18, 2017 @12:52AM (#55039163)

      Here's a link to paper by Kharecha and Hanson showing the health benefits of nuclear power to 2012. 1.8 million premature deaths avoided due to reduced air pollution.

      http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10... [acs.org]

    • I see a lot of comparisons of wind and solar to coal and natural gas. Why not compare it to nuclear?

      The base investment for nuclear power is 10 billion dollars. It's a regulatory nightmare and there is resistance against it by some people. There is also the cost of cleaning up a reactor if it melts down and all the evacuations required because of it. You have to factor in things going wrong.

      By comparison wind and solar is expensive, dirty, deadly, and did I mention expensive?

      Solar can be decentralized and allow people to never have to pay an electric company again. Being connected to "the grid" should be considered a vulnerability. Also, solar never threatens to an area uninhabitable

    • I just heard on the radio today of the health effects of the sound made by windmills. I think they called it "infrasound", it's the low frequency hum made by windmills that cause headaches, hearing loss, and all kinds of crazy stuff. Maybe that's a bunch of pseudoscience, I don't know.

      Infowars has a radio station now?

      What we really should do is put WiFi routers up there so the people who make up weird illnesses don't need to stretch their imagination too high.

    • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

      It's good on health but bad on cost. Way, way too expensive.

    • Wake me when it costs $10 Billion and takes 40 years to decommission a Solar/Wind Power Plant
  • from a macroeconomics point of view the ideal human lifespan would be late fifties. At that point productivity is going down and healthcare costs are going up. Furthermore once retired you are nothing more then a burden to the economy, and with the spiraling healthcare costs and longer lifespans this is only getting worst. Not sure why the people running these study believe that people living longer is automatically an economic benefit.

    In any case as the old saying goes one in the hand is worth 2 in the bu

    • by ody ( 100079 )

      In "macroeconomic terms," retired people continue to provide economic value to a society. For example, providing "free" child care services for their grandchildren (since typically now both parents must work to stay afloat) -- child care being one of the biggest expenses a working family can face. And that's just one example... retired folk frequently volunteer their time toward many different sorts of "economically invisible" endeavors. And, of course, they continue to be consumers, which gives us poor wor

      • Grandma's "free child care" is anything but free. Grandma Social Security and Medicare account for %40 of the Federal Budget. Medicare alone costs $588 Billion a year, and please don't give me that line about them having paid their dues. You average retiree receives 3X the benefits of what they paid into the system. Grandma's benefits could easily cover Free Universal child care and then some
  • by Maxo-Texas ( 864189 ) on Friday August 18, 2017 @01:06AM (#55039201)

    Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) Vehicles emit pollution that weighs roughly as much as the vehicle- every single year.

    Electric cars emit tire rubber dust (same as ICE) and brake dust (but only 1/10th as much).

    That's it. No micro particulates, no unburnt hydrocarbons, no leaing fluids, no CO2, CO, or Sulphur.

    Any pollution created by the cars manufacture is going to be highly localized, containable, and filterable.

    Any pollution created by electrical generation is going to be highly localized, containable, and filterable (even coal).

    If your town has 1 million ICE vehicles in it on a given day, replacing them would remove 4 billion pounds of pollution per year from your town.

    That's going to help many over 65, and anyone with breathing problems, probably cut cancer noticeably due to the reduction of PM10 combustion emissions.

    • by hyades1 ( 1149581 ) <hyades1@hotmail.com> on Friday August 18, 2017 @06:38AM (#55039747)

      There's a conference concerning air quality held every couple of years called "Upwind-Downwind". A few years ago, somebody presented a paper at one of them that indicated a majority of people who wound up in an emergency ward with some kind of heart problem had been breathing air on or very close to a road within the previous few hours. It was really pretty amazing. And yes, they'd taken into account all the obvious stuff like "everybody lives near a road".

      There's also been evidence from mobile air testing labs that levels of NOx and SOx skyrocket at heavily-used intersections during red lights. It's extremely localized...as in feet, not yards. I'll be really interested to see what happens to general public health when the internal combustion engine has been mostly replaced.

      • Of course they were breathing air "on or close to the road". How did you think they got to the hospital? We don't have flying cars and jetpacks at the big box stores yet.
  • "between 3,000 and 12,700 premature deaths have been averted because of air quality benefits over the last decade or so, creating a total economic benefit between $30 billion and $113 billion."

      So, averting one premature death costs the economy $10M? Not sure why the benefit goes down per person if more deaths are averted, but where on earth are they getting anywhere near $10M per person?

    • I would bet it's based on loss to the economy of a healthy worker plus the cost of health care for somebody with heart/lung problems, and probably some other stuff that hasn't occurred to us.

      • If that cost is really true, government would have a case to pay people to have kids. If each day kid is $10M return, paying parents $100K per kid per year from birth to 18 should be a no brainer - great return on investment.

        • Odd you should say that. When I was growing up in Canada, there used to be a "Baby Bonus"...a cheque the government sent every month, with the amount based on how many kids you had. It was a big country with a small work force. At some point, corporations persuaded them it would be better to simply import trained adults than to go to all the trouble of birthing, growing and schooling them, and the Baby Bonus is no more.

          • First, I doubt the baby bonus was anywhere near $100K per year per child. Second, if each child really represented $10M in economic opportunity, it would make sense to do both, invest in baby bonus and bring in already educated adults. My point is, I sincerely doubt the $10M figure is anywhere near that. Most people will not even make $10M in their lifetime, forget time value and other such things.

  • The last German auction for needed subsidies for coastal Wind-generators the winner asked for exactly 0€ subsidies.
    They don't need that anymore.

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