Measuring health benefits of energy efficiency

Researchers from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Boston University, and Oregon State University have devised a new methodology that calculates the health and climate benefits from saving energy in buildings.

The research is part of a four-year project called Co-benefits of the Built Environment (CoBE), which originally focused on calculating the health and climate impacts of energy efficiency on a country-wide scale. The latest developments now allow for smaller calculations, right down to an individual-building scale. The findings were published on September 8 in the journal Building and Environment.

The findings of the research represent a step forward in understanding the broader implications of energy-efficient buildings.

Associate Professor of Exposure Assessment Science at Harvard Chan School and senior author of the study, Joseph Allen, believes the decisions we make regarding buildings are directly impacting our climate and our health.

“CoBE is an important advancement for two reasons,” he says. “It adds a health lens to what has largely just been a carbon conversation, and it allows us to peer into the future so we can optimise decision-making today regarding the impact of energy-efficiency measures in buildings.”

The research is available as a public tool for building owners, operators, and investors to calculate future projections through to 2050. The tool needs key information about the building – such as location, size, energy sources, and energy consumption. It will then calculate the building’s energy and emissions footprints, along with climate and health impacts in dollar values.

Jonathan Buonocore, co-author of the study and assistant professor of environmental health at Boston University School of Public Health, says benefits often go unvalued in decisions around energy strategy, carbon offsets, and other carbon emissions reduction measures.

The tool uses various models and datasets in making its calculations. In a case study modelling the effect of a hypothetical reduction in electricity use among buildings across America from 2018 to 2050, the researchers found that for every dollar of electricity savings, overall by the year 2050 there would be another US$0.02-$0.81 of additional savings in health and climate co-benefits.

“The CoBE tool can put a monetary value on the health benefits of emissions reductions,” says Buonocore.

The full research paper is available to read here, and the online tool can be accessed here.

Feature image courtesy of Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

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