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35% of US Manufacturing Could Be Powered by Rooftop Solar Panels

Solar Panels in Grass

Rooftop solar arrays hold significant potential to fulfill the annual electricity needs of approximately 35% of US manufacturing sectors, yet their current contribution to the electricity grid mix is only 2.2%.

Solar panels installed on the roofs of industrial buildings have the potential to satisfy the entire electricity needs of up to 35% of American manufacturers. A recent study published in the journal Environmental Research: Sustainability and Infrastructure by IOP Publishing explores the viability of fulfilling these power requirements through on-site solar panel installations across various regions and manufacturing sectors in the United States.

Conducted by researchers from Northeastern University, the study utilizes data from the US Department of Energy Manufacturing Energy Consumption Survey to assess the potential electricity production of rooftop solar systems in comparison to the electricity demand per unit of floor space for the average manufacturing facility. The findings reveal that, depending on the season, rooftop solar installations could fully meet the electricity needs of 5-35% of American manufacturing industries, with the furniture, textile, and apparel sectors standing to gain the most.

Dr. Matthew Eckelman, Associate Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Northeastern University, says: “Currently, less than 0.1% of the electricity required by the manufacturing sector in the US is generated through renewable, on-site sources. This must change if we are going to meet decarbonization goals, and in many cases, rooftop solar panels are now a feasible option for supplying low-carbon energy.”

Globally, the industrial sector represents a large contributor to energy usage, and associated greenhouse gas and carbon emissions. As such, manufacturing has become an important target for global decarbonization efforts, with many companies switching to lower-carbon energy sources. The new study shows that rooftop solar panels could now be a feasible option for many manufacturing units due to their large, flat rooftops alongside falling prices, improved efficiencies, and flexibility in installation. Seasonally, manufacturing companies across nearly 40% of US locations could fulfill their electricity needs in the spring and summertime with rooftop solar arrays.

Eckelman concludes, “Greater policy attention on the feasibility and potential benefits of rooftop solar panel arrays will help industries to achieve renewable energy and greenhouse gas emissions goals. Our research provides an indication of the locations and sectors for which rooftop solar arrays could significantly help manufacturing firms to reach these goals.”

Reference: “Technical feasibility of powering U.S. manufacturing with rooftop solar PV” by Amir T Namin, Matthew J Eckelman and Jacqueline A Isaacs, 9 May 2023, Environmental Research: Infrastructure and Sustainability.
DOI: 10.1088/2634-4505/acb5bf

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