With fewer cars on the road than usual, many people across the United States have been enjoying temporarily better air quality. In a way, it is unfortunate that a global pandemic is the reason for an accidental increase in environmental conditions.
Coal Plants Closing, Opening Doors For Solar Energy
Thankfully, people all over the world have been taking action to diminish the environmental impact of electricity use. In this article, we are going to highlight the positive environmental and health effects that are being created as the United States weans off of dependence on coal power plants.
Closing Coal Plants Effects on Local Health
Back in 2012, a coal plant outside of Louisville, Kentucky permanently closed, and scientists from Columbia University decided to track the effects on local health. With other operating coal plants also installing “sulfur dioxide scrubbers,” the town’s air had 55% less air pollutants in just 3 years. Nature.com’s report on the study also noted significant reductions in hospital visits related to asthma attacks or difficulty breathing.
Of course, the environment is not limited to human health. Coal plant shutdowns have also led to improved crop yields for local farmers. In a study from the University of California - San Diego, shutdowns of coal plants between 2005 and 2016 saved “570 million bushels of corn, soybeans and wheat in their immediate vicinity.” The study goes on to claim reductions in coal usage can be attributed to saving 26,610 lives. With this in mind, the study suggested that the existing, operating coal plants still contributed to “329,417 premature deaths and the loss of 10.2 billion bushels of crops” in the 10 year study.
Quick Coal vs. Solar Comparison
In a perfect world, all residential and commercial electricity could be run by renewable, clean energy. That way, local air quality would not be compromised whatsoever. Of course, we are a solar company in Denver, Colorado, so there may be a little bit of bias here.
The truth is, as far as we know it, that the sun provides an unlimited supply of energy. Plus, 85% of the material in modern solar panels can be recycled, reused, or repurposed at the end of their useful life. To put it simply, here are some quick facts about coal and solar as they relate to electricity generation in the United States.
Fuel Source: Coal vs. Solar Panels
Energy Availability: Limited vs. Whenever the sun shines
2019 Cost for Electricity: $3500–3800/kW vs. $1800/kW
2018 Number of U.S. Jobs: 92,000 vs. 250,000
CO2 Emissions: 109gCO2e/kWh vs. 6gCO2e/kWh
In conclusion, the elimination of coal fired power plants both clears environmental pollutants and improves local health. The adoption of solar panels and other emission free electricity sources has helped make this possible and will continue to do so. Although it is true that, today, the initial manufacturing of a solar panel releases a small amount of carbon emissions, the lifespan of clean energy production presents an opportunity to improve local air quality with on-site solar energy generation.