Commercial enterprises are quickly learning about how using a clean, renewable energy source like solar power can help their business cut costs and become more energy independent. Companies of all shapes and sizes and in nearly every sector have made concrete moves to install solar systems to lower their energy bills. According to the Solar Information Energy Association, installations at the Top 20 corporate solar users in the country collectively generate an estimated $47.3 million worth of electricity annually.

Manufacturers embracing solar energy

One sector that can benefit immensely from solar power is manufacturing. Companies in this industry utilize a significant amount of electricity during the production process. All of this energy constitutes a major overhead cost for the organization, in addition to contributing to a significant amount of pollution to power the plant.

As noted by the Solar Energy Information Administration's Solar Means Business Report, with 67 installations across the country, manufacturing accounts for 86 MW of solar PV energy production, with an average system size of 1.3 MW. Due to the size of manufacturing operations, these installations need to be large to make an impact in the overall energy consumption for the company. Some of the bigger names in the manufacturing world that are utilizing a solar system include GM, L'Oreal and Johnson & Johnson.

Cost-effectiveness is usually a driving force for any large-scale operation, such a major manufacturing plant. Over the past few years, the average price of commercial systems has been dropping rapidly. After being priced at more than $6.00 per 1,000 MWdc in 2010, this number has decreased considerably to below $3.50 for close to 300 MWdc in 2015, according to the Solar Means Business report.

While this is a major fall, there's additional evidence that points to an even larger decline in the price of the annual commercial solar PV capacity installed. According to recent bids, the price of solar has fallen even further, as a bid of $0.46/W was put forward in August to build 500MW of solar power in China and a bid of $0.023/kWh was proposed in September to build 1.2 GW of solar power in Abu Dhabi, Electrek reported. 

While the amount of electricity will vary from one manufacturing operation to the next, the simple fact remains that each of them will ultimately be using a significant amount of juice - and paying for it. According to recent data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration, preliminary estimates indicate between 2010 and 2014 manufacturing energy consumption increased about 3.7 percent. This marks the first time since 2002 a four-year period showed growth in this number.

The rise in energy consumption coupled with the projected rise in retail electricity prices in the commercial sector will create a scenario wherein manufacturers will be faced with higher overhead operational costs, which will ultimately carve out a significant portion of a budget. Although engineers will no doubt continue to improve solar technologies and boost panel and cell efficiency, there's no need for manufacturing companies to wait to take advantage of the cost-cutting benefits that accompany large-scale commercial solar panel installations.

Solar power makes sense for manufacturers

Manufacturing companies make ideal spots for solar system installations for several reasons. First, these businesses typically operate out of fairly large plants with sizeable roofs. These expansive, flat spaces are perfect for setting up a large number of solar panels. This open area lets companies set up longer strings that capture more sunlight and therefore generate even more electricity.

In addition, manufacturing plants tend to be located in industrial parks and other areas far away from the clusters of skyscrapers in city centers. Since these big plants are far from tall buildings, they avoid the problems caused by massive structures looming over solar panels and create shade. This means a solar PV installation on a manufacturing plant is more likely to benefit from extended periods of unimpeded sunlight shining down and generating lots of energy, which helps to speed up the return on investment.

Not only are the rooftops of manufacturing plants a great location to install solar panels, but the parking lots and other carports for the plenitude of workers also makes a great place to install solar panels. By installing a layer of solar panels over the vast expanse of a parking lot, manufacturers can take advantage of space of that otherwise doesn't contribute anything to overall value to the company aside from providing a place for employees to keep their vehicles while they work. Erecting a solar-powered carport can be a great way to take advantage of electricity generated by solar power. Plus, giving workers a place to park their car in the shade means none of the employees has to leave work and get into super hot cars during summer.

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