Rooftop solar could power up to 35% of US manufacturing – study

Rooftop solar arrays on industrial buildings could potentially meet the electricity demands of up to 35% of US manufacturing sectors annually, according to a newly released study.

The study is published in IOP Publishing’s journal Environmental Research: Sustainability and Infrastructure. It investigates the feasibility of meeting electricity demands with onsite solar panel installations for different regions and US manufacturing sectors.

The study, led by Northeastern University researchers, uses the US Department of Energy Manufacturing Energy Consumption Survey to compare the potential electricity generation of rooftop solar arrays against the electricity demand per unit of floor space for the average manufacturing building.

The researchers found that rooftop solar arrays could completely fulfill the electricity requirement of 5% to 35% of US manufacturing sectors. Further, manufacturing companies across nearly 40% of US locations could fulfill their electricity needs in the spring and summer with rooftop solar arrays.

Dr. Matthew Eckelman, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at Northeastern University, said:

Currently, less than 0.1% of the electricity required by the manufacturing sector in the US is generated through renewable, onsite 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 new study shows that rooftop solar panels are a good option for many manufacturing units due to their large, flat rooftops alongside falling prices, improved efficiencies, and flexibility in installation.  

Despite having the potential to cover 13.6% of US electricity demand, rooftop solar overall currently accounts for just 2.2% of the electricity grid mix.  

Photo: Hormer Millworks

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