5.3 Integrating Atmospheric Modeling and Energy Modeling to Quantify the Air Quality and Mitigation Impacts of Clean Energy Strategies in the United States

Tuesday, 8 January 2019: 9:00 AM
North 129A (Phoenix Convention Center - West and North Buildings)
David Abel, Univ. of Wisconsin−Madison, Madison, WI; and T. Holloway and M. K. Harkey

Climate change is known to worsen air quality and subsequent adverse health outcomes and investments in clean air yield a remarkably high return on investment in public health – about $30 in benefits for each dollar spent. We will discuss our atmospheric modeling of climate and chemistry, and how this is integrated with modeling methodologies for energy demand, energy generation, and health impacts to identify win-win clean energy strategies to co-manage air pollution and climate change cost-effectively.

We have shown that the power sector plays an important role in managing both clean air and climate amplified under warmer climatic conditions. The predominant air pollution control strategies are technological, involving expensive end-of-pipe controls on power plants that have been very effective in capturing health-damaging pollutants, but increase carbon dioxide emissions, creating a climate penalty. Work to be presented here, combines interdisciplinary data and models (regional climate data, historical emissions monitoring data, meteorological simulations, energy demand simulations, power-sector dispatch modeling, chemical transport modeling, and health impacts assessment) to explore the role of the power sector in air pollution historically and in a warmer climate, then quantify the benefits of alternative, clean-energy-based control strategies. Current work quantifies the benefits of using energy efficiency to lower power plant emissions and improve air quality and public health (Abel et al., in preparation). Preliminary findings show that reducing electricity demand by 15% through energy efficiency could lower U.S. O3 and PM2.5 levels by about 1% regionally. This accounts for an avoided 170 O3-related premature deaths and 280 PM2.5-related deaths annually.

This work builds on work assessing the impacts of temperature on harmful emissions from power plants driven by air conditioning, historically and in a warmer climate. Findings show about a 3.5% increase in emissions per degree Celsius increase in daily temperature in the Eastern U.S. (D. Abel et al., 2017). In a future climate, this means air conditioning would account for nearly 1,000 summer deaths in the Eastern U.S. due to air pollution annually (D. W. Abel et al., 2018; Meier et al., 2017). Energy efficiency is also just one form of clean energy intervention that could alleviate air pollution. We find that 17% solar energy could reduce PM2.5 by as much as 5% in the Eastern U.S. (D. Abel et al., 2018).

Understanding the link between climate change and air quality is crucial in developing methods of alleviating the health damages and improving atmospheric models. In the series of studies that would be presented, we explore interactions between the power sector and future air pollution damages exacerbated by climate change then quantify the potential of clean energy to co-mitigate climate change and air pollution.


Abel, D., Holloway, T., Harkey, M., Martinez-Santos, J., & Tao, M. (in preparation). The air quality-related health benefits of energy efficiency in the United States.

Abel, D., Holloway, T., Kladar, R., Meier, P., Ahl, D., Harkey, M., & Patz, J. (2017). Response of Power Plant Emissions to Ambient Temperature in the Eastern United States. Environmental Science & Technology, 51(10), 5838–5846. https://doi.org/10.1021/acs.est.6b06201

Abel, D., Holloway, T., Harkey, M., Rrushaj, A., Brinkman, G., Duran, P., et al. (2018). Potential air quality benefits from increased solar photovoltaic electricity generation in the Eastern United States. Atmospheric Environment, 175, 65–74. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.atmosenv.2017.11.049

Abel, D. W., Holloway, T., Harkey, M., Meier, P., Ahl, D., Limaye, V. S., & Patz, J. A. (2018). Air-quality-related health impacts from climate change and from adaptation of cooling demand for buildings in the eastern United States: An interdisciplinary modeling study. PLOS Medicine, 15(7), e1002599. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1002599

Meier, P., Holloway, T., Patz, J., Harkey, M., Ahl, D., Abel, D., et al. (2017). Impact of warmer weather on electricity sector emissions due to building energy use. Environmental Research Letters, 12(6), 064014. https://doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/aa6f64

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