An infographic displaying the dramatic effects of pollution and how renewable energy can reduce the impact of climate change.

Summary

  • Renewable energy uses natural replenishable sources such as the sun, water and wind. By harnessing these greener alternatives, the prospects for human health may improve.
  • It is well known that fossil-fuel-based energy is harmful to our wellbeing. Air pollution, in particular, can cause and worsen respiratory issues and is responsible for thousands of deaths worldwide.
  • Moreover, the effects of global warming are hazardous to the health of both humans and animals. As the temperature of the Earth increases to dangerous levels, the changes threaten to cause severe heat waves, droughts, floods, and diseases.
  • Investing in renewable energy can help take the pressure off fossil-fuel-based power and provide a greener alternative that does not release harmful emissions. Renewable energy sources will help lower greenhouse gases, reduce the cost of electricity and improve public health by tackling air, water and soil quality.

Introduction

Experts at the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions have suggested that the 2019 electricity sector was responsible for 25% of all greenhouse gas emissions in the United States – with transport contributing to 29% and CO2 being the largest pollutant. More recently, the International Energy Agency reported that the traditional electricity sector is now the largest source of worldwide CO2 pollution. With this in mind, people widely accept that fossil fuels, such as coal, oil and gas, are highly toxic and produce harmful emissions that impact the global climate and local communities. With recent developments in the renewable energy sector, we see green energy options becoming more affordable and accessible for the wider world. As the race to tackle the climate crisis becomes more and more urgent, many people are starting to see renewable energy as our saving grace.

What is Renewable Energy?

By harnessing renewable sources when supplies are naturally most abundant, we can store the energy for when supplies fluctuate due to changing conditions.

Energy sources are classified as renewable if they are present in practically endless supply. For instance, sunlight, wind and ocean waves are some of the leading replenishable sources that we use to create renewable energy because there is an abundance and relative predictability to them. Sunlight continues to shine, and wind continues to blow – although their intensity does depend on the weather and the time of day. However, by harnessing these renewable sources when supplies are naturally most abundant, we can store the energy for when supplies fluctuate due to changing conditions (for example, at night or during winter).

Compared to these natural sources, fossil fuels are finite and burning them is incredibly detrimental to the environment and public health.

What are the Main Types of Renewable Energy?

The Canada Energy Regulator expects solar energy to make up 3% of Canada’s electricity generation by 2040.

Renewable sources come in all shapes and sizes, and while this blanket term makes them sound universally promising, some sources may be better than others.

Hydroelectricity

By relying on water, hydropower uses the force of water as it moves from a high point, such as a large dam. The momentum of this water turns into electricity by spinning a generator’s turbine blades.

Wind Energy

Wind farms are growing in popularity, with giant turbines scattered across green fields. The wind turns the blades, which powers an electric generator and produces electricity. Interestingly, wind energy now makes up 6% of electricity generation in the USA and can be an excellent option for contributing energy back to the national grid.

Solar Energy

According to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, the total amount of energy released by the sun in sixty minutes would be enough to power the entire world for a year. We harness the sun’s energy to power homes and businesses, and it has become one of the most sought-after forms of renewable energy. Solar energy systems typically work by using solar panels to absorb the sun’s UV rays, transforming light rays directly into electricity (or heat energy, in the case of solar thermal). The Canada Energy Regulator expects that solar energy will make up 3% of Canada’s electricity generation by 2040.

Biomass Energy

Biomass energy uses plant materials such as crops, trees, and waste wood. By burning these materials, chemical energy gets released as heat, and this powers a steam turbine to generate electricity.

Geothermal Energy

Geothermal energy harnesses the heat from the Earth’s core and works by drilling deep wells into the ground. These holes bring hot underground water to the surface as a hydrothermal resource, which is then pumped through a turbine to create electricity. You may have even experienced geothermal resources firsthand – particularly if you have visited the natural hot springs in British Columbia.

Tidal and Wave Energy

Energy derived from the ocean is an attractive option because although the tide only comes in and out twice a day, the moon’s gravity controls it. This means it is a consistent and reliable source of power. In the downtimes, tidal energy can be stored.

The Benefits of Renewable Energy

Renewable energy sources minimise the demand for fossil fuel-based energy and offer an alternative that is better for our planet.

Sustainable energy sources, such as solar power, are widely cited in many environmental initiatives, and for a good reason. Below, we’ve summarised just a few of the factors that are motivating the transition to clean power:

Renewable energy saves money

These natural sources can save money by reducing electricity bills and power maintenance costs. Clean energy also has an impact on the economy by impacting public health. Although many utility-scale projects come with sizeable upfront costs, these are long-term investments that will most likely pay off in the long run.

With private solar panels, you may have an opportunity to sell energy back to the grid, so the solar panels can potentially become a form of passive income in the years ahead.

Sustainable energy sources are more promising for the environment

Most renewable energy sources are greener options because they don’t produce the same emissions as fossil fuels like gas, oil, and coal. As we will reiterate in this article, these energy sources minimise the demand for fossil fuel-based energy and offer an alternative that is better for our planet. Consequently, with a reduced carbon footprint and fewer harmful emissions, the prospects for human health will improve.

Solar technologies can be convenient and low maintenance

Some renewable energy options, such as solar power, are low maintenance – which means they are easy to run, cost-efficient and potentially last a long time. Thanks to its outstanding longevity, a solar array can last between 40 to 50 years before needing to be replaced – reducing the need for intensive maintenance and wasted equipment.

Renewable energy is boosting employment

Another advantage that the green energy sector offers relates to employment. While fossil fuel jobs are generally decreasing, the career opportunities created by the clean power industry may go above and beyond what the fossil fuel sector currently offers. Business analysts at Forbes report that clean energy jobs outnumber fossil fuel jobs by 3-1.

How Does Pollution Affect Human Health?

A scientist wearing a face mask and protective gear analysing a miniature globe

In a report conducted by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), experts outlined the risks caused by emissions of nitrogen oxide, sulfur dioxide and PM2.5 which all contribute to heart attacks, asthma and respiratory diseases.

Among the benefits of switching to renewable energy is the potential for improving public health. It is well known that pollution and climate change impact the national life expectancy and the general quality of life we have access to. So, how can renewable energy projects improve this? In order to understand how green energy can influence our wellbeing for the better, it’s essential to know how people are being threatened by pollution in the immediate sense.

Being in close proximity to ‘dirty’ power facilities can subject people to low-quality air and water that can be hazardous. Unfortunately, many people live near fossil fuel plants – especially individuals in historically marginalised communities. According to the NAACP, 68% of African Americans live (or have lived) within 30 miles of coal-fired plants in the USA. Short and long-term exposure to these air pollutants can have adverse health effects. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), it can increase the risk of respiratory conditions, heart disease and lung cancer. Furthermore, coal-fired power plants pollute the air with particulate matter (PM), consisting of fine dust, dirt, smoke, soot and liquid droplets. In fact, WHO experts state that particles that are less than 2.5 micrometres in diameter (PM2.5) pose the most significant risk because they are so small. All PM particles can be inhaled and enter the respiratory system. However, the PM2.5 particles are so fine that they can become lodged deep in the lungs.

In a report conducted by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), experts outlined the risks caused by emissions of nitrogen oxide, sulfur dioxide and PM2.5, which all contribute to heart attacks, asthma and respiratory diseases. Aside from reducing the air quality, fossil fuels also contaminate the water and soil due to oil and gas leaks before combustion.

Shockingly, researchers at MIT conducted a study in 2013 where they reviewed deaths associated with pollution in the United States. They found air pollutants may account for approximately 200,000 premature deaths per year, with 52,000 of those deaths associated with electricity generation. Moreover, the University of Texas suggested that air pollution reduces the global life expectancy by more than a year.

Some of the health risks caused by the climate crisis may even go unnoticed. For example, some research suggests that a rise in the Earth’s temperature might increase the risk of mental health disorders like anxiety and PTSD.

Are Renewable Energy Sources the Way Forward?

The health and climate benefits from renewable sources of energy could be worth up to $210 million annually.

In 2019, the EPA released a report that aimed to investigate the value of investing in renewable energy. Environmental experts assessed the monetary value from a health and emissions standpoint by looking at:

  • The amount of coal or gas energy that is displaced
  • The harmful emissions that have been avoided
  • How these reduced emissions have potentially decreased death rates or hospital visits

By switching to renewable sources, more hazardous energy is displaced with greener alternatives that release fewer (if any) emissions. Moreso, fewer emissions means fewer toxins, which improves air quality. Consequently, if air quality is improved, there will ultimately be fewer hospital visits and pollution-related deaths.

An additional paper from the Harvard School of Public Health found that renewable energy sources may benefit human health. Within the study, they focused their efforts on wind and solar energy and efficiency methods. They argued that renewable power would reduce greenhouse gases by decreasing the demand for traditional electricity and taking the pressure off fossil-fuel-based power. Moreover, green energy sources will eventually displace fossil fuel use as they will provide an alternative, cleaner source.

The study also found that all the renewable installations in question reduced emissions – such as carbon dioxide (CO2), sulfur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxide (NO2). The reduction of these gases will have a significant effect on human health and the climate.

Interestingly, the locations that had the most significant benefits for human health and the climate were not the ones that replaced the most energy. Instead, the results depended on the location and the type of low-carbon alternatives that they used. For example, the wind installations in Cincinnati were twice as beneficial as the ones installed in Virginia. Firstly, Cincinnati displaced more coal. Secondly, it had a larger population downwind of its coal plants, meaning the population is in a position where the wind carries toxic emissions in their direction. In all, the Harvard School of Public Health concluded that the health and climate benefits from renewable power sources could be worth up to $210 million annually.

Further to this, global warming is impacting human health and quality of life substantially. In 2003, a heatwave in Europe claimed approximately 35,000 lives. As the climate crisis reaches record highs, the probability of heatwaves is increasing, which can cause potentially fatal issues such as heatstroke and hyperthermia. Some scientists have suggested that recent record-breaking Canadian heat waves and wildfires may be a direct result of climate change.

Moreover, respiratory diseases are worsened by heat as your body tries harder to keep you cool. As the planet’s temperature rises, issues such as asthma may increase too. What’s more, WHO analysts report that global warming has caused at least 150,000 deaths per year, with this figure likely to double by 2030. The effects of climate change affect every area of life, and it’s vital that we work together to reduce harmful emissions.

Which Renewable Sources are Best for Human health?

Unfortunately, hydro facilities have been known to flood landscapes, destroy natural habitats and pollute the air.

While there are many types of renewable energy sources, some of them may not be the greenest option – despite the fact that people tend to view projects labelled as ‘green’ in a favourable light. Therefore, to determine which renewable source is best for improving human health, you have to consider the broader implications.

Interestingly, hydropower is one of the largest clean energy options in the United States, with wind energy following closely behind. However, while hydroelectric dams use water (a natural source), this method may cause damage to local communities. Unfortunately, hydro facilities have been known to flood landscapes, destroy natural habitats and pollute the air. What’s more, these dams can divert and alter the natural flow of water; consequently affecting the animals and humans who rely on access to rivers. Furthermore, biomass energy may come with some drawbacks. This is because it can still produce high carbon emissions – especially if the material is taken from forests. Geothermal plants typically produce low emissions as long as they pump steam and water back into a reservoir.

In comparison, wind and solar are the two best sources of renewable energy. They emit minimal, if any, greenhouse gases and don’t contaminate the water or air. In fact, a research paper found that solar panels avoid around 75% of CO2 emissions that the grid may otherwise produce. Moreover, in a 2017 study, researchers explained how wind and solar energy increase air quality, impact public health and reduce harmful emissions. The study outlined that these green energy options reduced the “reliance on combustion-based electricity generation”.

Final Thoughts

It’s clear that renewable energy has a lot going for it, and as the world strives to become more sustainable, green alternatives will be at the forefront of this movement. However, to build the momentum and increase the impact, investors have a part to play in supporting renewable energy projects that can help to reduce the effects of climate change. In a way, supporting green energy is also a way of investing in your own wellbeing and the safety of younger generations. Some of the serious public health issues caused by excess greenhouse gas emissions are expected to subside as the clean energy sector grows. More specifically, the quality of our air, soil and water will improve with the ongoing rise of green energy, but time is of the essence.

 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

How does pollution affect human health?

Pollution has adverse health effects because it contaminates the water, air and soil supplies that are essential to our survival. Moreover, fossil-fuel plants experience oil and gas leaks that drastically affect our natural resources and can even cause diseases. When it comes to air pollution, coal-fired power plants contaminate the air with particulate matter (PM2.5), which can be inhaled and lodged deep in the lungs – leading to severe respiratory issues. In the United States alone, air pollutants are responsible for 200,000 premature deaths. The drastic effects of climate change involve dangerous heat waves, droughts, floods, hurricanes and rising sea levels worldwide.

 

Why is renewable energy good for humans?

According to the International Energy Agency report, the electricity sector is the largest emitter of CO2 in the world – one of the many reasons why it’s crucial to move away from the electricity that is generated via fossil fuels. Renewable alternatives such as solar energy systems harness natural sources and help us create cleaner energy. Compared to fossil fuel energy (which contaminates water supplies and requires “4 gallons of water to produce one gallon of gasoline”), most renewable sources waste little (if any) water.

Solar panels avoid 75% of grid-related CO2 emissions. By transitioning to renewable energy sources in a timely fashion, we can collectively reduce these harmful emissions. This will, in turn, impact air, water and soil quality, and help to reduce the impact of climate change. It is crucial to make these changes without delay, as pollutants are lowering the average life expectancy, damaging habitats, and contributing to a vast number of deaths worldwide.

 

Which is the best renewable energy source for our health?

The most popular types of renewable systems include hydroelectricity, geothermal, biomass, solar, wind and ocean. However, hydroelectricity and biomass energy, in particular, may cause more harm than good. In one British Columbia energy review, they highlighted that we should be wary of eco projects that could introduce future threats to the environment. For example, although hydroelectric facilities use water (a replenishable source), their activities can flood landscapes, destroy natural habitats and pollute the air. Similarly, biomass uses natural plant material, but it must be burnt in order to generate energy. This combustion process creates harmful emissions.

Therefore, solar and wind farms are among the most beneficial renewable energy sources for human health. They drastically reduce emissions by providing an alternative energy option and taking the pressure off fossil-fuel-based energy.

 

What are the disadvantages of renewable energy?

Renewable energy isn’t perfect – yet! Although renewables are the best option for reducing global warming and its impact on human health, there are a few hurdles that still need to be tackled. For example, the installation of many energy systems often requires some considerable upfront costs; we see this with geothermal and solar panels in particular. However, as more people invest in renewable energy projects and the demand increases, the price may continue to lower at a favourable rate. Renewables are becoming more affordable and even creating more jobs along the way.

Another potential drawback is the manufacturing process. For instance, solar panel production requires some water and releases limited emissions, but this in no way compares to the destructiveness of fossil fuels. Once they have been manufactured and installed, solar panels are robust. In fact, they can withstand most weather conditions and last up to 50 years. Therefore, while the renewable energy sector has some minor kinks to work out, it is a far better option for the environment, and the benefits dramatically outweigh the drawbacks.

 

Can we live without fossil fuels?

Many people struggle to imagine a world without fossil fuel power. The world currently depends on energy from coal, oil and gas to power everyday activities; therefore, it’s not feasible to stop using non-renewable energy sources overnight. However, we must strategically switch to cleaner alternatives before fossil fuels run out and the effects of climate change go too far. The population can live on renewable sources, and the clean power transition will play a huge role in defining the future.

 

Westbridge Energy Corporation

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