By Irina Slav for Oilprice.com

Replacing coal-fired power plants with solar power installations could save as many as 51,999 lives every year, a study from the Michigan Technological University has found. This is the number of people who will in all likelihood not die of things such as asthma and congestive heart failure resulting from harmful emissions from coal-fired plants.

solar jobCoal currently accounts for 30 percent of the U.S. energy mix, according to the Energy Information Administration. In terms of consumption, however, coal only accounted for 15 percent, almost all of it going into power generation. The fossil fuel is quickly losing share to natural gas, but is still a solid contributor to CO2 and other pollutants emissions – solid enough, according to the study’s authors, Emily Prehoda and Joshua Pierce, to kill more than 50,000 people on an annual basis.

Switching from fossil fuels to renewables is at the core of sustainability efforts. It also comes at a price, which Prehoda and Pierce have estimated at a total of US$1.45 trillion. This is the cost of installing 755 GW of new solar power generation capacity. Over a 25-year period—the length of the warranty on PV modules—this translates into US$1.1 million per life saved. It may not sound like a lot if it’s your life, but it is, the authors note, comparable to the value of a human life as estimated in other studies.

What’s more, solar power does not just come with costs.

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