Determining the Feasibility of Rooftop Solar PV for Decarbonizing the Industrial Sector

Matthew Eckelman

CEE Associate Professor Matthew Eckelman and MIE Professor and Vice Provost for Faculty Affairs Jacqueline Isaacs published their research on the “Technical feasibility of powering U.S. manufacturing with rooftop solar PV” in the Environmental Research: Sustainability and Infrastructure journal.


The use of renewable electricity is vital for the decarbonization of industry. Industrial firms source renewables through off-site power purchase agreements or on-site installations, though the latter currently supplies <0.1% of industrial electricity demand in the U.S. Manufacturing buildings typically have large, flat rooftops that are ideal for solar photovoltaic (PV) arrays. This study investigates the feasibility of using rooftop solar PV to cover the net annual electricity needs of industry across all U.S. states and manufacturing sectors. Modeled electricity supply intensity for solar PV arrays is compared with the electricity demand per unit of floorspace for average manufacturing buildings derived from the U.S. Department of Energy Manufacturing Energy Consumption Survey. Results show that, depending on geographical location, rooftop solar PV can completely fulfill the electricity requirements of 5%–35% of manufacturing sectors considered on a net annual basis (assuming net metering). Furniture, textiles, and apparel manufacturing can be powered through on-site means in nearly every location, representing 2% of U.S. manufacturing electricity use and 6% of floorspace. Considering seasonal potential during summer months expands the list of feasible sites, particularly in the U.S. Southwest. Compared to off-site sourcing of renewable energy, pursuing on-site PV installations can also enable manufacturers to maintain limited operations during periods of grid disruption, especially when coupled with on-site energy storage. Overall, the results indicate a substantial physical opportunity for industrial firms to expand rooftop solar PV from currently low levels to help meet decarbonization goals.

See Related Media Coverage

Related Departments:Electrical & Computer Engineering, Mechanical & Industrial Engineering