There’s no doubt about it – wind, solar, and grid-scale battery storage are crucial to decarbonizing global energy systems. With NYC Climate Week in full swing, we want to highlight the additional benefits clean power brings to our local environments.
Greenhouse Gas Emissions
With just the utility-scale solar, wind, and energy storage systems operating in the US today, we’ve achieved massive environmental benefits through reducing carbon emissions. At a high level, wind and solar power projects already on the grid avoid 426 million metric tons of carbon dioxide per year – that’s equivalent to the total emissions 50 billion gallons of gasoline would produce. That’s also the equivalent of the amount of carbon sequestered by planting 20 billion trees. These emissions savings can prevent over $22 billion in future climate-related damages each year – and that number is only growing.
Locally, we can see the direct health benefits renewable energy has on our air quality. Current projects avoid 289,000 metric tons of sulfur dioxide and 330,000 metric tons of nitrogen oxides annually. Removing these harmful pollutants from our ecosystems reduces smog and rates of asthma and other respiratory issues, generating health benefits that are valued between $20 and $51 billion.
As the world becomes more susceptible to drought and extreme weather, clean energy remains sustainable by not using precious water resources for cooling like conventional power plants. Wind and solar projects save an estimated 211 billion gallons of water each year across the country, enough to fill 319,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools. Projects across the country are designed to save water in other ways as well – solar farms with regionally appropriate plants underneath help retain stormwater, wind turbines disturb so little ground that they barely impact hydrological conditions. In every way, clean energy is producing more while using less.
Scaling the Benefits
The best part about these numbers? They’re already outdated. Thanks to federal clean energy incentives, clean energy is providing even more of these benefits at a faster pace than we’ve ever seen. In just the past year, we’ve seen $271 billion in investment in clean energy projects, including 83 new or expanded clean energy manufacturing facilities and 184,850 MW of new projects. Each new clean energy project is a step forward in making our air, water, and communities healthier and more resilient.
The US and the world still have a long way to go, in both decarbonizing energy production and protecting global ecosystems, but progress is clearly underway.