Potential lives saved by replacing coal with solar photovoltaic electricity production in the U.S.

Document Type


Publication Date



Poor air quality from coal combustion adversely impacts human health including mortality and morbidity effects on respiratory, cardiovascular, nervous, urinary, and digestive systems. However, the continued use of coal are no longer necessary to provide for society's electrical needs because of advances in solar photovoltaic (PV) technology. In order to inform health policy this paper reviews the data for quantifying the lives saved by a replacement of U.S. coal-fired electricity with solar PV systems. First the geospatial correlation with coal fired power plants and mortality is determined for the U.S. at the state level. Then, current life cycle mortality rates due to coal combustion are calculated and current energy generation data is collated. Deaths/kWh/year of coal and PV are calculated, and the results showed that 51,999 American lives/year could be saved by transitioning from coal to PV-powered electrical generation in the U.S. To accomplish this, 755 GW of U.S. PV installations are needed. The first costs for the approach was found to be roughly $1.45 trillion. Over the 25 year warranty on the PV modules the first cost per life saved is approximately $1.1 million, which is comparable to the value of a human life used in other studies. However, as the solar electricity has value, the cost per life is determined while including the revenue of the solar electric generation using a sensitivity analysis on the value of the electricity. These results found that for most estimations of the value, saving a life by offsetting coal with PV actually saved money as well, in some cases several million dollars per life. It is concluded that it is profitable to save lives in the U.S. with the substitution of coal-fired electricity with solar power and that the conversion is a substantial health and environmental benefit.

Publisher's Statement

© 2018 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved. Publisher's version of record: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.rser.2017.05.119

Publication Title

Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews