The Environmental and Public Health Benefits of Achieving High Penetrations of Solar Energy in the United States
This study finds that a future U.S. electricity system in which solar plays a major role—14% of demand in 2030, and 27% in 2050—would result in enduring environmental and health benefits; that the existing fleet of solar power plants is already offering a down-payment towards those benefits; and that there are sizable regional differences in the magnitude of the benefits. The total monetary value of the greenhouse-gas and criteria air pollution benefits of the high-penetration scenario exceeds $400 billion under central estimates, which is equivalent to roughly 3.5¢/kWh-solar. Focusing on the existing end-of- 2014 fleet of solar power projects,recent annual benefits equal more than $1.5 billion under central estimates, which is equivalent to 4.8¢/kWh-solar. Achieving the high-penetration scenario also reduces power-sector water withdrawals by 8% in 2030 and 5% in 2050, relative to the baseline scenario, while water consumption is reduced by 10% in 2030 and 16% in 2050 (see figure below).