Social, Economic, and Environmental Benefits of Renewable Energy in London Ontario
For most of human history, we have relied on renewable sources of energy. Only in the last two centuries people started relying more heavily on non-renewable sources of energy such as oil, coal, and natural gas to fuel their daily lives. While these energy sources have led to great economic progress, they have simultaneously been damaging both human and environmental health. These sources of energy are ultimately limited in quantity and the burning of these fossil fuels results in greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere.
In 2020, London, Ontario’s total greenhouse gas emissions were approximately 2.7 tonnes (Get Involved London, 2021). The use of non-renewable energy sources is a form of environmental pollution, which damages both the natural environment around us, as well as our own health. If we do not make drastic changes to our resource consumption practices soon, the environmental consequences will only get worse in the future. This is why the United Nations (UN) has listed affordable and clean energy as one of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) towards sustainable development.
The air pollution from greenhouse gas emissions can cause a wide range of health consequences for humans. While minor effects such as headaches, itchy skin, congestion, pneumonia, or bronchitis are not generally fatal, air pollution can lead to greater health problems such as heart disease, lung cancer, respiratory diseases, and many more. Similarly, air pollution has negative impacts on plants with the ability to kill crops, plants, and young trees (National Geographic, n.d.). This air pollution from greenhouse gases traps heat energy in the Earth’s atmosphere which over time has increased air and ocean temperatures. As temperatures rise, some species find themselves unable to adapt, leading a decrease in biodiversity.
Additionally, the use of non-renewable energy sources pollutes our water. Water pollution occurs from discharges and runoff of oils, metals, and chemicals from homes, businesses, agriculture practices, and polluted rains (Akella et al., 2009). This pollution puts aquatic life and any populations living around contaminated water sources at risk of disease and can kill any plant life that may rely on the water source for nutrients. By attempting to change our energy sources to cleaner sources, we are better able to protect life on land and life below water. Benefits also include cleaner water and better sanitation, as well as better health and climate action.
Economically, using cleaner energy would allow for individuals to save on their utilities as the resources are renewable; therefore, only need to be paid for upfront rather than a continuous fee based on monthly energy consumption. Implementing this switch would also create countless jobs in research, manufacturing, installation, maintenance, and other aspects of energy production which would give the people of London more work opportunities and specialized training. This creation of jobs plays a major role in the development of healthy economies. When more people have jobs, benefits are seen beyond just the income those individuals are making. More people working means that more money can be spent in the local economy in other sectors such as retail, restaurants, and entertainment (Kumar, 2020). These economic benefits will simultaneously work towards economic growth, innovation, and sustainable cities which are other SDGs.
If London was able to transition to clean, renewable energy sources across the city, it would not only benefit the local and surrounding environment, but also the quality of life for individuals and the community as a whole. One social benefit of using renewable energy is improved health and a reduction of disease over the lifespan. Advancements in technology and specialized training for new workers in clean energy will also benefit the community socially as they will be more educated and skilled workers. The addition of renewable energy choices will also benefit society as it will give consumers more choice in consumption which is considered to have a positive impact on quality of life. Lastly, this would benefit society by decreasing the income equality gap and reducing poverty as the cost of energy will decrease and lower income households may find themselves with less expenses than before (Kumar, 2020). These benefits illustrate how pursuing renewable energies can also make a positive impact on other SDGs through reducing poverty and hunger, reducing inequalities, and creating quality education and decent work.
Currently, London finds itself demonstrating “how a community can work with the government toward generating renewable energy to help protect the environment and lower electricity costs” by using net metering and pursuing net-zero energy and water consumption (Jiggens, 2021). In 2020, the average household in London spent $70 less per month than it did in 2019 mostly due to working from home and reducing personal vehicle usage. This change in energy expenditure illustrated that just a 1$ decrease in Londoners’ energy use results in “approximately $13 million staying in London” (Get Involved London, 2021). This money saved through energy efficiency and conservation means that households will have more money to afford goods and services and a greater ability to pay off debts.
By pursuing the goal of clean and affordable energy in London, we find ourselves also tackling issues regarding almost every other SDGs. Without attempting to improve energy efficiency and cleanliness, many of the present consequences we are facing will only get worse. By implementing changes towards renewable energies, individuals, nature, and cities as a whole will see benefits socially, environmentally, and economically.
Over the last 30 years, costs renewable energy systems have dropped substantially and continue to decline (Akella et al., 2009), which is leads me to be very optimistic in our pursuit of cleaner energy. As these sources continue to become more affordable, I hope to see a trend in households adopting solar power through the installation of solar panels, and cities adopting solar and wind energy. As prices of electric cars decrease, I hope to see people adopting electric personal vehicles and reducing gasoline consumption. Until then, I believe that many roads around the city should be closed to personal vehicles to encourage the use of bicycles and public transportation which are cleaner methods of transportation.
2020 Community Energy Use & Greenhouse Gas Emissions Inventory. Documents | Climate Emergency Action Plan | Get Involved London. (2021, August). Retrieved February 15, 2023, from https://getinvolved.london.ca/12452/widgets/49288/documents/64235
Air Pollution. National Geographic Society. (n.d.). Retrieved February 15, 2023, from https://education.nationalgeographic.org/resource/air-pollution
Akella, A. K., Saini, R. P., & Sharma, M. P. (2009). Social, economical and environmental impacts of Renewable Energy Systems. Renewable Energy, 34(2), 390–396. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.renene.2008.05.002
Jiggens, M. (2021, September 29). London community to serve as site for Renewable Energy Demonstration Project. Canadian Biomass Magazine. Retrieved February 15, 2023, from https://www.canadianbiomassmagazine.ca/london-community-to-serve-as-site-for-renewable-energy-demonstration-project/
Kumar, M. (2020). Social, economic, and environmental impacts of renewable energy resources. Wind Solar Hybrid Renewable Energy System. https://doi.org/10.5772/intechopen.89494
This blog post series is an ongoing partnership between the SDG Cities program at Pillar Nonprofit Network and the Environmental Stewardship course in the Governance, Leadership, and Ethics program at Huron University. As part of their assignments, students are required to write about real-world challenges using the UN Sustainable Developments Goals (SDGs) as a holistic framework to analyse the problem and propose solutions that could lead to systemic change and a better future for all. The series presents an opportunity for students to address practical and meaningful challenges that their communities are facing currently, and an opportunity for SDG Cities to enrich their program by including youth perspectives.
All opinions expressed by the guest authors do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the SDG Cities program or Pillar Nonprofit Network.