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Rooftop solar panels could power the needs of 35% of US manufacturers

[May 13, 2023: Staff Writer, The Brighter Side of News]

Findings indicate that, depending on the season, rooftop solar systems could wholly meet the power needs of 35% of US manufacturing sector. (CREDIT: Creative Commons)

Solar panels, if installed on the roofs of industrial structures, have the potential to entirely satisfy the power needs of approximately 35% of manufacturers in the United States.

The recent research, appearing in the IOP Publishing's journal Environmental Research: Sustainability and Infrastructure, delves into the viability of fulfilling these power needs via on-site solar installations for diverse regions and manufacturing sectors throughout the United States.


Spearheaded by scientists from Northeastern University, the study employs data from the US Department of Energy Manufacturing Energy Consumption Survey to contrast the potential power production of rooftop solar systems with the power requirements per square foot of the typical manufacturing building.

The findings indicate that, depending on the season, rooftop solar systems could wholly meet the power needs of 5-35% of US manufacturing sectors. Businesses in furniture production, textiles, and clothing manufacturing stand to gain the most.


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“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 decarbonisation goals, and in many cases rooftop solar panels are now a feasible option for supplying low-carbon energy," said Dr Matthew Eckelman, Associate Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Northeastern University.

Worldwide, the industrial sector is a significant contributor to energy consumption, along with the associated greenhouse gas and carbon emissions. Therefore, the manufacturing industry has emerged as a critical focus for worldwide decarbonization initiatives, with a shift seen towards less carbon-intensive energy alternatives.


Recent research indicates that the implementation of rooftop solar panels could now be a viable solution for many manufacturing facilities, thanks to their expansive, flat rooftops, decreasing costs, enhanced efficiencies, and installation flexibility.

Array of tightly-packed solar panels in neat rows stretching into the distance. (CREDIT: IOP Publishing)

Seasonal data suggests that manufacturers in almost 40% of US locations could meet their electricity demands during the spring and summer months using rooftop solar installations.


“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," Eckelman concludes.

Manufacturing electricity demand intensity and rooftop solar PVs supply intensity ranges. Electrical demand intensity of manufacturing subsectors (including standard error for each sector—red) and high efficiency (22%) roof-mounted solar PV supply (green) and low efficiency (16%) roof-mounted solar PV supply (purple) intensity in 50 U.S. state capitals and selected additional cities, both in kWh m−2 yr−1 . (CREDIT: IOP Publishing)

Research Summary:

Solar panels installed on rooftops could potentially fulfill up to 35% of the yearly electricity requirements of the US manufacturing industries.


At present, renewable energy sources located on-site provide less than 0.1% of the electricity consumed by the industrial sector in the US.

The industrial sector is responsible for 38% of worldwide energy usage and contributes to 37% of greenhouse gas emissions.

Average monthly electricity demand and solar PV energy generation: (a) average monthly electricity demand for 19 3-digit NAICS manufacturing sectors and supply potential of high (22%) and low (16%) efficiency roof-mounted solar PV monthly electricity generation in 50 U.S. States. (CREDIT: IOP Publishing)

Although they possess the capacity to satisfy 13.6% of the country's electricity needs, rooftop solar panels presently make up a mere 2.2% of the national electricity grid composition.


The aim of this work is to provide a systematic assessment of technical potential that allows manufacturers and policy makers to judge the feasibility of rooftop distributed electricity generation for industrial operations in the U.S.

For more environmental news stories check out our Green Impact section at The Brighter Side of News.


Note: Materials provided above by The Brighter Side of News. Content may be edited for style and length.


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