The Potential of Rooftop Solar for Industrial Manufacturing

Category Technology

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A new study conducted by researchers from Northeastern University announced that rooftop solar panels could potentially satisfy the electricity needs of up to 35% of American manufacturing industries, with the furniture, textile, and apparel sectors standing to gain the most from this renewable energy source.

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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.

The majority of U.S. manufacturers have the potential to power their businesses with rooftop solar

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.

Rooftop solar can be installed quickly and easily, making it attractive to many industries

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." .

The electricity generated from solar panels could reduce the average U.S. CO2 emissions by 2-10% if widely adopted by manufacturers

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.

Replacing traditional power sources with solar power could generate an additional $9 million in revenue per year for the average industrial manufacturer

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 .

A 2019 report estimated that solar power could provide up to 14.7% of the total electricity used by the manufacturing sector in the US by 2024

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