A study released on Wednesday has quantified the specific environmental benefits of increasing solar power in the U.S., and the bottom line is eye-popping. If the Department of Energy’s SunShot Initiative succeeds in meeting its deployment goals – for 14% of U.S. electricity demand to be met by solar in 2030 and 27% in 2050 – the environmental and public health benefits throughout the U.S. would exceed $400 billion by 2050. (This is compared to a “No New Solar,” or NNS, baseline of the total U.S. solar capacity as of the end of 2014.)
More specifically, cumulative power-sector GHG emissions would be reduced by 10% between 2015 and 2050, resulting in savings of $238–$252 billion. Similarly, cumulative drops in harmful power-sector emissions (including PM2.5 by 8%, SO2 by 9%, and NOx by 11% between 2015 and 2050) would save $167 billion from lower future health and environmental damages, while also preventing 25,000–59,000 premature deaths.
In addition, cumulative water savings from 2015–2050 would be 4% of total power-sector withdrawals (46 trillion gallons) and 9% of total power-sector consumption (5 trillion gallons). By 2050, water withdrawals and consumption in the continental U.S. would be lower than the NNS baseline scenario in three quarters of all states. Importantly, drought-prone and arid states are among those with the largest reductions in water use, the report emphasizes. And the $400 billion figure “excludes the value of reduced water use—for which monetary quantification was not feasible—as well as other non-quantified environmental considerations,” so there is a considerable upside.
SunShot aims to reduce the costs of PV systems 75% by 2020 from 2010 levels and thus make them competitive with conventional energy sources. Already the price of solar has dropped as much as 65%, and new installations are mounting at record-breaking levels. This is exactly in line with what was recommended at the 2015 BCLS panel Sustainable Solutions to the Global Energy Crisis, and is cause for both celebration and renewed effort.