Solar panels placed on the rooftops of big buildings can meet the entire electricity demand of up to 35% of US manufacturers, according to a recent study published in IOP Publishing’s journal Environmental Research: Sustainability and Infrastructure.
The study, conducted by researchers from Northeastern University, examines the possibility of fulfilling these electricity needs through on-site solar panel installations in various regions and manufacturing sectors across the United States.
The researchers used data from the US Department of Energy Manufacturing Energy Consumption Survey to compare the potential electricity generation of rooftop solar arrays with the electricity demand per unit of floor space for an average manufacturing building. The findings indicate that rooftop solar arrays could fully meet the electricity requirement of 5-35% of US manufacturing sectors, depending on the season. Industries involved in furniture, textiles, and apparel production are expected to benefit the most.
Dr. Matthew Eckelman, Associate Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Northeastern University, emphasises the need for change, stating, “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.”
The industrial sector globally plays a significant role in energy consumption and contributes to greenhouse gas emissions. Consequently, manufacturing has become a primary focus of global efforts to reduce carbon emissions, with many companies transitioning to lower-carbon energy sources. The study reveals that due to their large, flat rooftops, falling prices, improved efficiencies, and installation flexibility, rooftop solar panels could now be a viable option for numerous manufacturing units. In spring and summer, manufacturing companies across nearly 40% of US locations could fulfil their electricity needs with rooftop solar arrays.
Eckelman concludes by stressing the importance of policy attention, saying, “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.”