Clean Energy in Manufacturing: Gaining Ground in the U.S.

In 2013, the Department of Energy (DOE) introduced the Clean Energy Manufacturing Initiative (CEMI) to help the U.S. emerge as a leader in clean energy manufacturing. Implementing the initiatives of the program not only improves the environment and preserves natural resources, it also enhances the country’s competitiveness in a global market. The primary goals of CEMI are stated as:

  • To increase U.S. competitiveness in the production of clean energy products
  • To increase the competitiveness of manufacturing companies across the country by improving energy productivity

CEMI is part of the Advanced Manufacturing Partnership introduced several years ago by President Obama. To encourage participation, DOE offers grants and other forms of practical support to help make all types of manufacturing more cost-effective and competitive.

Through the support for clean energy manufacturing and resulting gains in efficiency and productivity, manufacturers of all types of products are now increasingly utilizing renewable energy sources at their plants and factories. This change is significant, as 2013 EPA data showed that 21 percent of CO2 emissions come from industrial activities, and another 31 percent comes from electricity production (a sizeable portion of which can also be attributed to industrial and manufacturing activities).

Several companies that are leading the way in using renewable energy sources in their manufacturing efforts include Tesla Motors, Method Soap and Procter & Gamble.

Tesla Motors: Manufacturing 100 Percent Powered by Renewable Energy

Tesla plans to break ground on the Gigafactory in Storey County, Nevada, in 2016. Workers at the 10 million square foot factory will produce enough batteries each year to provide power for 500,000 vehicles.

The entire plant will run on renewable energy from solar panels, a nearby wind farm, and a geothermal electricity plant. Solar panels will sit atop the building’s completely flat roof to draw energy and heat from the sun. All electrical outlets will connect to the wind farm to provide the building with energy along with the geothermal plant. With the reduced cost of operating the manufacturing plant, Tesla plans to sell its car battery packs for $3,000 less than the current going rate.

Method Soap: Replacing Smokestacks with Wind Turbines

Method Soap, a manufacturer of liquid soap and similar products in the Chicago suburb of Pullman, operates a LEED certified platinum factory that operates differently from anything the community has ever seen.

On-site renewable energy sources include a 23-story wind turbine and solar photovoltaic collectors in the parking lot that produce one-third of all power used by the company. The solar panels rotate once every six minutes in order to follow the sun’s path and use its heat for energy. The company purchases renewable energy credits to account for the remaining energy used at the site.

Method Soap also hires the majority of its workforce from the local Pullman and Chicago areas, thereby fulfilling its mission to serve the community in which its sustainable manufacturing plant stands.

Procter & Gamble Wind Farm in Texas

Procter & Gamble, the industry giant known for making well-known household cleaning items, is currently in the planning stages of creating a wind farm in Cooke County, Texas. Working in conjunction with EDF Renewable Energy, Procter & Gamble intends to have all North American plants that produce its home care products operate solely on wind power. The company has emerged as a leader in the use of clean energy for manufacturing at a time when organizations that create household and personal care products are under increasing pressure to be environmentally conscious.

The wind farm under construction is expected to provide 370,000 MWh of electricity every year. That output is greater than what the company’s manufacturing facilities use each year and would be enough energy to power nearly 35,000 homes a year. By taking the lead in corporate sustainability initiatives through the use of renewable energy, Procter & Gamble is part of a group of 81 other large national organizations to have pledged to do the same. All have committed to following the American Business Act on Climate Change, a piece of federal legislation with the ultimate goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

The wind farm is expected to be operational by the end of 2016. Procter & Gamble has promised to reduce its own greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent in the first four years the wind farm is operational.

Everyone Benefits When Manufacturers Utlize Renewable Energy Sources

The energy sources that Americans use now is finite, and the urgency with which carbon emissions must be reduced grows by the day. Using renewable energy sources, especially in manufacturing and industrial activities, is critical to slowing and hopefully reversing the devastating impacts of climate change.

Through government legislation and corporate action, the use of increasingly efficient renewable energy sources by manufacturers, such as Tesla Motors, Method Soap, and Proctor & Gamble, is an encouraging sign. Hopefully one day soon, the use of renewable energy in manufacturing will no longer be the exception, but will instead be the norm.

Lead image: Filling line of liquid in the plastic bottles. Credit: Shutterstock.


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Andrew Armstrong is a clean technology enthusiast and sustainability advocate based in the San Francisco Bay Area. Follow him on Twitter .

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