Long Story Short: Garvin Heath on Air Quality and Public Health (Text Version)

This is the text version of the video Long Story Short: Garvin Heath on Air Quality and Public Health.

This video features an interview with NREL's Garvin Heath on renewable energy's potential to improve air quality and public health by replacing combustion-based energy sources.

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[Garvin speaks]

Air quality is the fourth leading cause of death in the world. Four million people per year die from outdoor air pollution. In the U.S., that translates to hundreds of thousands of people, even in a country that has as clean of air as the United States generally does.

A lot of the air pollution is caused by combustion, and combustion is mostly used in the energy system. So, as we think about exchanging renewables for conventional—especially fossil—energy, we're then clearing the skies. We're going to be able to decrease emissions and, therefore, decrease health effects that result from them.

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One of the primary motivations for doing air quality research at NREL, which is not maybe a laboratory that one would normally think about this kind of research being done at, is that it is able to quantify the cobenefits from introduction of decarbonization strategies and renewable energy integration.

So, one fascinating study is called LA100—100% renewable energy for the city of Los Angeles. And in that study, we looked at renewable energy being introduced to the power sector, so changing out power plants that are currently burning natural gas for a whole set of different renewable energy sources—solar, and batteries, and wind. And we changed out light duty vehicles, so passenger cars and trucks, for electric vehicles. We changed out natural gas-fired hot water heaters for heat pump hot water heaters and heat pump air conditioning and heating systems.

So, in total we had a simulated reduction in PM 2.5, that's fine particulate matter, and ozone air pollution concentrations equivalent to around two decades worth of Los Angeles' effort to try to reduce air pollution from all sources within the city.

When air quality is bad, people know it. They can see it, they can smell it, they can feel it. It has effects on their health. We have different demographic groups that are experiencing air pollution in different ways than others. Certainly, people of color, lower income have been shown in studies to experience higher degrees of air pollution and health-related effects from those than their white counterparts.

But that doesn't have to stay that way. And by, especially in a targeted manner, introducing renewable energy technologies that can displace air pollutant-emitting sources can then result in the reduction of those disparities and, hopefully in the end, to fully equalize so that there are no more disparities by race or income or other groups.

[Web address appears on screen: nrel.gov/analysis/air-quality]