Solar energy has significant potential to help meet the urgent challenge of decarbonizing the industrial sector in the United States. According to NREL, it is estimated that approx. 25% of all U.S. industrial process heat demand could be met with solar energy.(1) With industry accounting for approx. one third of all energy consumed in the United States (2), and industrial process heat accounting for approx. 70% of U.S. manufacturing energy use (3), it can therefore be estimated that 23% of U.S. energy use is accounted for by industrial process heat. If solar can meet 25% of this industrial heat demand, by implication almost 6% of overall U.S. energy consumption could be decarbonized by using solar energy for industrial process heat applications.
This is a huge potential impact. It is therefore surprising that using solar energy for process heat applications has not been given more emphasis as we seek to decarbonize industry.
Which solar technologies are best suited to meet the demand for industrial process heat? NREL’s analysis was limited to a few mature solar technologies. Of those technologies reviewed, the highest potential was parabolic trough, a widely deployed concentrating solar power (CSP) technology. The FOCUS, as a higher output, more space-efficient alternative to parabolic trough therefore has huge potential to help U.S. industry decarbonize it’s very significant energy footprint.
In sum, solar thermal has huge potential to help decarbonize U.S. industry. However, to date, limited emphasis has been placed on solar thermal in meeting this challenge. We look forward to a greater focus being placed on solar thermal in the future.
(1) “Solar thermal and PV heat technologies can meet many temperature needs; nearly 25% of 2014 IPH demand” - see Slide 31 of https://www.nrel.gov/docs/fy21osti/79083.pdf
(2) “The industrial sector has not typically received the same level of attention and rigor in energy analysis as other end-use sectors, even though the industrial sector accounts for nearly one-third of all U.S. primary energy use (EIA 2020).” https://www.nrel.gov/docs/fy21osti/77760.pdf
(3) “Industrial process heating is a fundamental step in manufacturing to treat or transform raw materials, making up about 70% of U.S. manufacturing energy use” https://www.nrel.gov/news/program/2020/solar-energy-technologies-could-meet-industrial-process-heating-demands.html