The Environmental and Public Health Benefits of Achieving High Penetrations of Solar Energy in the United States

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Abstract

We estimate the environmental and public health benefits that may be realized if solar energy cost reductions continue until solar power is competitive across the U.S. without subsidies. Specifically, we model, from 2015 to 2050, solar power–induced reductions to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, air pollutant emissions, and water usage. To find the incremental benefits of new solar deployment, we compare the difference between two scenarios, one where solar costs have fallen such that solar supplies 14% of the nation's electricity by 2030 and 27% by 2050, and a baseline scenario in which no solar is added after 2014. We monetize benefits, where credible methods exist to do so. We find that under these scenarios, solar power reduces GHG and air pollutants by ∼10%, from 2015 to 2050, providing a discounted present value of $56–$789 billion (central value of ∼$250 billion, equivalent to ∼2 ¢/kWh-solar) in climate benefits and $77–$298 billion (central value of $167 billion, or ∼1.4 ¢/kWh-solar) in air quality and public health benefits. The ranges reflect uncertainty within the literature about the marginal impact of emissions of GHG and air pollutants. Solar power is also found to reduce water withdrawals and consumption by 4% and 9%, respectively, including in many drought-prone states.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)472-486
Number of pages15
JournalEnergy
Volume113
DOIs
StatePublished - 15 Oct 2016

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016 Elsevier Ltd

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/JA-6A20-67716

Keywords

  • Air pollution
  • Co-benefits
  • Greenhouse-gases
  • Public health
  • Solar energy
  • Water use

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