According to Scientists, Wind Energy Provides More Health Benefits 

According to Scientists, Wind Energy Provides More Health Benefits 

A research team at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has found that wind power gives people more health benefits when electricity operators prioritize turning down output from fossil-fuel-based power plants. 

Published in Science Advances, the study analyzed the hourly activity of wind turbines and reported emissions from all fossil-fuel-based power plants in the USA between 2011 – 2017. 

The researchers traced emissions across the country and mapped the pollutants to affected demographic populations. After, they calculated the regional air quality and health costs to each community.  

In 2014, they found that wind power associated with state-level policies improved air quality overall. It resulted in $2 billion in health benefits across the country. It comes with a little drawback, though, as only about 30% of the health benefits reached disadvantaged communities.  

According to the team, if the electricity industry reduced the output of the polluting power plants and utilized more wind-generated power, the overall health benefits could quadruple to $8.4 billion nationwide. But again, the results differ in different areas. 

Coauthor Noelle Selin said, “We found that prioritizing health is a great way to maximize benefits in a widespread way across the U.S., which is a very positive thing. But it suggests it’s not going to address disparities.” 

Analyzing the difference 

In this study, the team looked for patterns between periods of wind power generation and conventional power plants to see how regional electricity markets adjusted the output of power plants in response to influxes of renewable energy. 

Lead author and former MIT graduate Minghao Qiu said, “One of the technical challenges, and the contribution of this work, is trying to identify which are the power plants that respond to this increasing wind power.” 

As mentioned, the researchers compared datasets from 2011 to 2017 across the USA. The datasets covered each of seven major regional electricity markets, each market providing energy to one or multiple states. 

Qiu explained that California and New York were each to their own market, New England market covered around 7 states, and the Midwest covered more. “We also cover about 95 percent of all the wind power in the U.S.,” Qiu said. 

The team saw that generally, when wind power was available, markets adjusted by scaling back the power output of natural gas and coal-fired power plants. 

They also noted that plants which were turned down were likely caused by cost-saving reasons; certain power plants were less costly to turn down than others. 



Using a model to correlate air quality to the human health 

After this analysis, the team used a model to stimulate wind patterns and chemical transport of emissions across the country. Then, they determined where and at what concentrations the emissions generated fine particulates and ozone. 

As we know, fine particulates and ozone are two pollutants known to damage human health and air quality. 

Finally, the team mapped the general demographic populations across the country, based on U.S. census data. On the data, they applied a standard epidemiological approach to calculate a population’s health cost because of their pollution exposure. 

Through the model, the researchers found that in the year 2014, reducing energy based on fossil fuel and increasing wind energy resulted in $2 billion in health benefits, or savings, across the country.  

There’s a smaller share of these benefits which went to disadvantaged populations, such as minority and low-income communities. Although, this disparity varied by state. 

Qiu said, “It’s a more complex story than we initially thought,” Qiu says. “Certain population groups are exposed to a higher level of air pollution, and those would be low-income people and racial minority groups. 

“What we see is, developing wind power could reduce this gap in certain states but further increase it in other states, depending on which fossil-fuel plants are displaced.” 

According to Selin, the findings of this study can be helpful to figure out the most impactful strategies to address the disparity and other challenges. 

But overall, this study also helps us understand that wind energy can be beneficial to the environment, economy, and human health. 

And as for disadvantaged communities and areas, perhaps this technology by Nanyang Technological University (NTU) could help in the future. 

Breeze energy generator that also stores electricity 

Researchers at the NTU have developed a device that, when exposed to winds with a velocity as low as two meters per second, can produce a voltage of three volts and generate electricity power of up to 290 microwatts. 

That energy is enough to power a commercial sensor device and for it to also send the data to a mobile phone or a computer. 

Dubbed a wind harvester, this device is light and durable. When there’s unused electricity, the device will store it in a battery. Therefore, we can use power when there’s no wind at all. 

According to the scientists, this technology has the potential to replace batteries in powering light emitting diode (LED) lights and structural health monitoring sensors. 



Those structural health monitoring sensors are found on urban structures to monitor structural health and alert engineers when there are issues like instabilities or physical damage. 

Project leader Professor Yang Yaowen said, “As a renewable and clean energy source, wind power generation has attracted extensive research attention. Our research aims to tackle the lack of a small-scale energy harvester for more targeted functions, such as to power smaller sensors and electronic devices.” 

Yang added that this device could also serve as a potential alternative to smaller lithium-ion batteries.  

The wind harvester is, as Yang said, self-sufficient, requires occasional maintenance, and doesn’t use heavy metals—reducing environmental problems as heavy metals are usually not disposed of properly.  

Wind harvester (and battery) 

NTU researchers developed this device to get wind energy efficiently at low cost and with low wear and tear. The body is made of fiber epoxy, a highly durable polymer, with the main attachment that interacts with the wind. 

It’s also made of inexpensive materials, namely copper, aluminum foil, and polytetrafluoroethylene—also known as Teflon. When developed at a large scale, this could prove to be advantageous to disadvantaged parts of the world. 

In lab tests, the device could power 40 LEDs consistently at a wind speed of 4 meters per second. As mentioned, it could also trigger a sensor device, and power it sufficiently to send the room temperature information to a mobile phone wirelessly. 

This means that the wind harvester could generate electricity to power a device consistently. It could also store excess energy enough to keep the device powered for an extended period when there’s no wind. 

Yang explained, “Wind energy is a source of renewable energy. It does not contaminate, it is inexhaustible and reduces the use of fossil fuels, which are the origin of greenhouse gases that cause global warming. 

“Our invention has been shown to effectively harness this sustainable source of energy to charge batteries and light LEDs, demonstrating its potential as an energy generator to power the next generation of electronics, which are smaller in size and require less power.” 

This device has received interest. Back when the findings were published in October 2022, the research team was planning to conduct further research to improve output power as well as energy storage functions of their device and they were working to commercialize it. 



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