Offshore wind farms off the coasts of New Jersey and Maryland could have health and climate benefits worth more than half a billion dollars annually and could save more than 50 lives a year, according to a new study co-authored by an School of Public Health researcher.
The study, published online in Environmental Research Letters, makes clear that the benefits of offshore wind vary greatly, depending on the location and size of the facility. It comes as the first offshore wind farm in the US—off Block Island—nears completion.
Generating electricity from low-carbon energy sources such as offshore wind reduces the need for fossil fuel power generation, decreasing emissions of harmful air pollutants such as nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, and carbon dioxide. The research team—which includes Jonathan Levy, professor of environmental health and the study’s principal investigator—simulated the public health and climate benefits of different sizes of offshore wind facilities off the coasts of New Jersey and Maryland. The researchers used a model that accounts for wind conditions, as well as power plants active on the electrical grid each hour of the year.
They found that while all of the offshore wind projects reduced air pollutant emissions, the results varied by location and the size of the project. The largest simulated project, 3000 megawatts (MW) off the coast of New Jersey, would have benefits of $690 million and save 55 lives in the year 2017. A smaller (1100 MW) facility in the same location and year would have smaller benefits per megawatt-hour (MWh) of electricity generated. This is because the larger facility size displaced proportionately more generation from coal than natural gas, with coal plants tending to have higher emissions.
In general, due to the complex dynamics of the electrical grid, benefits did not scale linearly with size—meaning a facility that was twice as large did not necessarily have benefits that were twice as high.
The simulated facilities had climate and health benefits of between $54 and $120 per MWh of electricity produced.
Levy said that, given the estimated costs of generating electricity using offshore wind, the study indicates that “the entire cost of an offshore wind facility would be justified in the health and climate benefits, before considering the value of selling the electricity.”
The study’s lead author was Jonathan Buonocore, research associate and program leader of the Climate, Energy, and Health Center for Health and the Global Environment at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Co-authors include: Patrick Luckow and Jeremy Fisher of Synapse Energy Economics in Cambridge; and Willett Kempton of the College of Earth, Ocean & Environment, University of Delaware.