Climate and Health Co-benefits of Air Pollution Mitigation

Electrifying sections of the economy and improving energy efficiency while moving away from fossil fuels to renewably-generated electricity brings cascading and mutually-reinforcing benefits, or "co-benefits." These co-benefits include mitigation of air pollutant and greenhouse gas emissions, improved public health and increased food security. We quantify and model these co-benefits for power generation, the residential sector, electric vehicles and industry, with specific attention to options and policies in China and India.

Potential co-benefits of electrification for air quality, health, and COmitigation in 2030 China

Electrification with renewable energy is a central strategy for carbon mitigation. Switching to electricity-powered vehicles and residential heating/cooking can also reduce air pollutant emissions, which brings public health benefits. Our researchers study electrification strategies for China, a country committed to both reducing air pollution and peaking carbon emissions before 2030.

Considering both coal-intensive and decarbonized power system scenarios for 2030, they assess the air quality, health and climate co-benefits of various electrification scenarios for the vehicle and residential sectors relative to a non-electrified coal-intensive business-as-usual scenario. Based on an integrated assessment using the regional air pollution models and epidemiological concentration–response relationships, they find that coal-intensive electrification (75% coal) does not reduce carbon emissions, but can bring significant air quality and health benefits (41,000–57,000 avoided deaths in China annually). In comparison, switching to a half decarbonized power supply (∼50% coal) for electrification of the transport and/or residential sectors leads to a 14–16% reduction in carbon emissions compared to the baseline, as well as greater air quality and health co-benefits (55,000–69,000 avoided deaths in China annually) than coal intensive electrification.

Furthermore, depending on which end-use sector is electrified, they find different regional distributions of air quality and health benefits. While electrifying the transport sector improves air quality throughout eastern China, electrifying the residential sector brings most benefits to the North China Plain region in winter where coal-based heating contributes substantially to air pollution.

Related Research:

Climate, air quality and human health benefits of various solar photovoltaic deployment scenarios in China in 2030

Solar photovoltaic (PV) electricity generation can greatly reduce both air pollutant and greenhouse gas emissions compared to fossil fuel electricity generation. The Chinese government plans to greatly scale up solar PV installation between now and 2030. However, different PV development pathways will influence the range of air quality and climate benefits. Benefits depend on how much electricity generated from PV is integrated into power grids and the types of power plants displaced. Using a coal-intensive power sector projection as the base case, we estimate the climate, air quality, and related human health benefits of various 2030 PV deployment scenarios.

Our researchers find that deploying distributed PV in the east with inter-provincial transmission maximizes potential CO2 reductions and air quality-related health benefits. Deployment in the east with inter-provincial transmission results in the largest benefits because it maximizes displacement of the dirtiest coal-fired power plants. They find large potential benefits of policies that encourage distributed solar deployment and facilitate inter-provincial PV electricity transmission in China.