Leveraging Solar to Decarbonise Manufacturing in the US

Solar Panels on a warehouse roof, with a ground-mounted solar PV system in the background.

  1. Recently published research explores opportunities for US-based manufacturing operations to adopt solar power.
  2. On-site renewable electricity generation, specifically rooftop solar PV, presents an opportunity for industrial decarbonization.
  3. The study focuses on assessing the technical potential of on-site rooftop solar PV for manufacturing operations in the U.S.
  4. Light manufacturing sectors like furniture and apparel have the potential to meet their electricity demand through rooftop solar PV in various locations across the country.
  5. Seasonally, around 40% of manufacturing sectors could utilize solar PV for their electricity needs during spring and summer in the U.S. Southwest.
  6. State-level incentives can be tailored to encourage rooftop solar PV adoption based on the types of manufacturing facilities present.

The data used by the researchers primarily comes from the Manufacturing Energy Consumption Survey (MECS) database, which provides information on electricity demand intensity for different manufacturing subsectors in the U.S. The study also utilizes the system advisor model (SAM) developed by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) to calculate solar PV generation potential per unit area based on location-specific data.

The researchers used data mining techniques to estimate electricity demand intensity for manufacturing operations subsectors based on the MECS database. The monthly solar PV generation potential per unit area is calculated using the system advisor model (SAM), which integrates solar resource data and weather conditions. The analysis compares supply and demand on a net annual basis, assuming the use of net metering.

The finding show that:

  • Rooftop solar PV can cover 100% of the required electricity for 5%–35% of industrial sector ma manufacturing operations, depending on the facility location.
  • Light manufacturing operations, such as furniture and apparel can meet 100% of their electricity demand from solar PV in all modeled U.S. locations.
  • Several other sectors can achieve electricity self-sufficiency but in a smaller subset of U.S. locations.
  • Nearly 40% of manufacturing sectors could utilize solar PV for their electricity needs during spring and summer in the U.S. Southwest.
  • The technical feasibility of rooftop solar PV to cover demand is expected to improve as manufacturing and PV panel efficiencies continue to advance.
  • The analysis focuses on rooftop potential but acknowledges the potential for ground-mounted PV systems in industrial estates.

While the research is indicative there are a number of caveats:

  • The MECS database only includes the area of enclosed floorspace (corresponding in this analysis to roof area potentially available for solar PV installations) and not the total land footprint. This data constraint contributes to artificially high electricity demand intensities of sectors where a portion of electricity-using operations takes place in the open.
  • The model assumes monocrystalline solar panels manufactured by SunPower (SPR-X22-470-COM) with 22% nominal efficiency, maximum power of 476 (Wdc) and 0.36% degradation rate and fixed mounted solar systems to determine the potentials for onsite solar energy conversion
  • The continuing trend of electrification in industry may increase demand intensity, making it more challenging to fulfill electricity needs through on-site means.
  • The study focuses on rooftop potential and excludes the analysis of ground-mounted solar PV systems. Ground mount solar could be an important factor for larger manufacturing operations.
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