Evaluating the Economic Parity of Solar for Industrial Process Heat

Colin McMillan, Wang Xi, Jingyi Zhan, Eric Masanet, Parthiv Kurup, Carrie Schoeneberger, Steven Meyers, Robert Margolis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus Citations


Industrial process heat (IPH) uses nearly three-quarters of U.S. manufacturing sector fuel energy, with most of IPH powered by fossil fuel combustion. Appreciably reducing industrial CO2 emissions will necessarily involve addressing IPH demand. Solar photovoltaics (PV) have contributed to the changing fuel mix of electricity generation in the United States, but on-site use of solar energy in the manufacturing sector remains insignificant. To understand the economic feasibility of IPH fuel switching, we develop an open-source process parity framework to identify conditions when solar process heat technologies can reach cost parity with an incumbent fossil fuel combustion technology. Building a case study that reflects common IPH demands and applicable solar technologies across several locations in the United States, we generalize the relationship between key parameters of solar resource, investment and fuel prices. We evaluate the use of solar thermal (ST) and PV connected electric boilers to partially substitute natural gas boilers in a brewery. Cost parity is not achieved in any analysis location for current solar system costs and fuel prices. Los Angeles County is most likely to achieve cost parity due to the higher fuel prices compared to other counties.

Original languageAmerican English
Article numberArticle No. 100011
Number of pages11
JournalSolar Energy Advances
StatePublished - Jan 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/JA-6A20-77770


  • Electrification
  • Fuel switching
  • Levelized cost of heat (LCOH)
  • Solar heat for industrial processes (SHIP)


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