The shift toward clean, reliable, affordable electricity is most visible in the rapid proliferation of solar panels mounted on the roofs of businesses.
  • Rooftop solar panels on industrial buildings could meet the electricity demand of 5% to 35% of U.S. manufacturing sectors, with furniture, textiles, and apparels benefiting the most.
  • Less than 0.1% of the electricity used by U.S. manufacturing comes from renewable, on-site sources, emphasizing the need to adopt low-carbon options like rooftop solar panels.
  • Rooftop solar arrays have the potential to significantly help manufacturing firms reach renewable energy and greenhouse gas emissions goals, with nearly 40% of U.S. locations able to fulfill their electricity needs during the spring and summer seasons.

Mounted on the rooftops of industrial buildings, solar panels could meet the entire electricity demand of up to 35% of U.S. manufacturers. A new study, published in Environmental Research: Infrastructure and Sustainability, investigates the feasibility of meeting these electricity demands through on-site solar panel installations for different regions and manufacturing sectors across the United States.

The study, led by researchers from Northeastern University, uses the U.S. 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 results show that rooftop solar arrays could completely fulfill the electricity requirement of 5%–35% of U.S. manufacturing sectors depending on the season, with companies producing furniture, textiles, and apparels set to benefit 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 U.S. 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 U.S. locations could fulfill their electricity needs in the spring and summer time 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.”

Publication Referenced in the Article:

Amir T Namin et al, Technical feasibility of powering U.S. manufacturing with rooftop solar PV, Environmental Research: Infrastructure and Sustainability (2023). DOI: 10.1088/2634-4505/acb5bf

This article has been adapted from source material published by IOP Publishing.

Derick Lila
Derick is a Clark University graduate—and Fulbright alumni with a Master's Degree in Environmental Science, and Policy. He has over a decade of solar industry research, marketing, and content strategy experience.

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