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

Nov. 10, 2015
We tend to 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.

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.

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

About the Author

Elisa Wood | Editor-in-Chief

Elisa Wood is an award-winning writer and editor who specializes in the energy industry. She is chief editor and co-founder of Microgrid Knowledge and serves as co-host of the publication’s popular conference series. She also co-founded RealEnergyWriters.com, where she continues to lead a team of energy writers who produce content for energy companies and advocacy organizations.

She has been writing about energy for more than two decades and is published widely. Her work can be found in prominent energy business journals as well as mainstream publications. She has been quoted by NPR, the Wall Street Journal and other notable media outlets.

“For an especially readable voice in the industry, the most consistent interpreter across these years has been the energy journalist Elisa Wood, whose Microgrid Knowledge (and conference) has aggregated more stories better than any other feed of its time,” wrote Malcolm McCullough, in the book, Downtime on the Microgrid, published by MIT Press in 2020.

Twitter: @ElisaWood

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