Generating clean electricity will improve world population's health

September 12, 2007

The health of people around the world will "substantially benefit" from both improved access to electricity and a switch from fossil fuels towards renewable energy. These are the conclusions of Professor Anil Markandya, Department of Economics and International Development, University of Bath, UK, and colleagues, authors of this second paper in The Lancet's Series on Energy and Health titled "Electricity Generation and Health."

Studies have shown that greater health burdens are created by power stations that most pollute outdoor air -- those based on coal, lignite and oil. Health burdens are smaller for natural-gas burning power stations, and even lower for nuclear power stations. Due to waste storage and terrorism concerns, nuclear power remains controversial. However the authors note that, should the proportion of world electricity provided by nuclear power (currently 17%) not be continued, the task of reducing fossil fuel consumption for electricity generation will become more difficult. Renewable sources such as solar, wind and wave power appear to create the smallest health burden.

The paper studies the potential of "fuel crops," and notes that limited suitable agricultural land in Europe will limit their role in that region. CO2 capture and storage could also reduce the impact of CO2 emissions, but more research is needed on this technology.

The authors conclude: "Although these are complex and rapidly evolving issues, the key messages from a public health perspective are clear. Population health will substantially benefit from improved access to electricity and from modal switch away from fossil fuels towards renewable sources of electricity generation where possible."
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Lancet

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