(CN) – While renewable energy helps to cut down on harmful greenhouse gas emissions, a Harvard study released Tuesday finds that installing wind turbines and solar power in the Upper Midwest and mid-Atlantic regions can help maximize improvements in both public health and the economy.
The study, published in the journal Environmental Research Letters, discovered that areas such as the Upper Midwest could gain economic benefits of $113 per megawatt/hour (MWh) of wind. That represents a far greater boon than in renewable energy-rich California, which benefits $28 MWh.
The difference, researchers say, comes from the greater impact to health in underserved areas that suffer from greater levels of carbon dioxide emissions, including reduced impacts of extreme weather events, farming disruptions and climate-related diseases.
“Our results provide a strong argument for installing more renewable energy to reduce the health impacts of climate change, and the health burden of air pollution. By tackling the root causes of climate change, we can address our nation’s most pressing health problems at the same time,” said Jonathan Buonocore, lead author and research associate at Harvard.
To determine the benefits of renewable energy, the researchers developed a model of the U.S. electrical grid and then calculated associated benefits of carbon dioxide reduction for each of the 10 regions.
“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,” Buonocore said.
The study found that residents in the Upper Midwest can benefit from four times the amount of health and climate benefits of renewable energy than residents of California. This is mostly due to the prevalence of dirty energy in the area, such as coal.
The burning of fossil fuels for electricity contribute roughly one-third of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions that affect human health and climate change. According to the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, human-caused emissions of carbon dioxide must decrease by 45% by 2030 in order to reduce the worst impacts of the climate crisis.
“To ensure that climate policies are cost-effective, the location where renewables are built is much more important than the specific technology,” said Drew Michanowicz, a study author and research fellow at Harvard. “If you want to get the biggest bang for your buck in terms of the health and climate benefits of renewables, investing in the Upper Midwest and Great Lakes regions will keep populations downwind healthier while also taking important steps to decarbonize.”