Take Two Aspirin and Get a New Thermostat: Health Benefits of Energy Efficiency

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We write about energy efficiency mostly in terms of its economic or environmental virtues. Less attention goes to the health benefits of energy efficiency. They deserve a closer look.

To that end, the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) and the Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR) recently produced a document that spells out exactly what saving energy does for the brain, lungs and heart.

From LED lights in homes to combined heat and power in factories, energy efficiency reduces our need to run fossil fuel power plants. It’s easy to think that the US has a very clean energy system, given all of the publicity renewable energy gets. But in truth 67 percent of our power still comes from fossil fuels, and 39 percent is specifically from coal-fired generation, according to the Energy Information Administration.

And believe it or not, that’s not expected to change dramatically for decades. EIA foresees renewables providing only 18 percent of U.S. generation by 2040, up from around 13 percent. (See graphic below.) Renewables could become a bigger part of the mix more quickly as the federal Clean Power Plan kicks in. But still,  turn-over in energy infrastructure typically occurs relatively slowly. New generation takes a long time to build, and typically utilities will keep existing generators going as long as they are cost effective.

EIA power gen

So making the air healthier truly requires that we learn to do more with less energy.

Pollution from power plants contributes to the four leading causes of death in the U.S., according to ACEEE and PSR. These are: cancer, chronic lower respiratory diseases, heart disease, and stroke.

More specifically, power plants produce particulate matter and nitrogen oxides that harm the respiratory system. Besides contributing to illnesses like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, these pollutants are linked to asthma, which affects a disproportionate number of minority children, according to the two groups.

Fossil fuel emissions also are bad for the circulatory, nervous system, including the brain, which is vulnerable to mercury and lead pollution that can contribute to stroke and intellectual impairment.

For more details on the health benefits of energy efficiency see the ACEEE/PSR document here.

Follow Energy Efficiency Markets on Twitter @EfficiencyMkts

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Elisa Wood About Elisa Wood

Elisa Wood is the chief editor of MicrogridKnowledge.com. She has been writing about energy for more than two decades for top industry publications. Her work also has been picked up by CNN, the New York Times, Reuters, the Wall Street Journal Online and the Washington Post.

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  1. […] [Energy Efficient Economy.com]  … the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) and the Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR) recently produced a document that spells out exactly what saving energy does for the brain, lungs and heart… […]

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