In a recent study done by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, solar power could provide $400 billion in public health and environmental benefits throughout the United States by 2050.
If anything, the $400 billion figure is conservative in terms of the potential to reduce greenhouse gas and air pollution. Part of the rationale for that assumption is that the $400 billion figure is tied to solar providing 27 percent of total energy needs by 2050. Many estimate that it can provide more than that by then. At the end of 2014, solar power was responsible for more than $1.5 billion in these types of benefits.
The DOE’s SunShot Initiative is playing its part with its goal of reducing the installed cost of solar by 75 percent between 2010 and 2020. Expectations of solar capacity are 14 percent of U.S. electrical capacity by 2030 and 27 percent by 2050. Again, these estimates can be seen as conservative considering the solar plus storage boom that is beginning to materialize.
Another finding of the study was that the current 20 plus gigawatts of current solar capacity is responsible for offsetting 17 million tons of greenhouse gasses. This represents about $700 million per year in avoided health costs of carbon pollution.
From an overall environmental perspective, solar also reduces sulfur, nitrogen, and other particulates that are by-products of conventional electricity production. The eastern half of the country can see the most benefits here as it still has the most coal-fired power generation. It is estimated that between 25,000 and 59,000 premature deaths can be avoided by the continued deployment of solar power.
A reduction of water use is another significant environmental benefit of solar power use. Based on the previous SunShot numbers mentioned, a 10 percent reduction in power plant water use can be expected by 2030 with 16 percent by 2050. This is especially important in parts of the country that are more prone to droughts.
Again, the numbers delivered by this study represent a “business as usual” trajectory of the implementation of solar power in the coming decades. It can easily be argued that with the combination of a decrease in the cost of solar power along with cost effective energy storage solutions, we can expect solar power to provide quite a bit more of the energy that we need.
With the powerful combination of massive health benefits, water conservation, and future cost savings, the future of solar power is certainly bright.