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NREL's System Advisor Model: New Features Improved Capabilities

March 22, 2013

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory's (NREL's) System Advisor Model (SAM) just got better. The latest release includes dynamic new features for modeling wind, photovoltaic, concentrating solar power, geothermal, and biopower systems.

Accessible for free, SAM combines the best publicly available hourly performance models with detailed financial models to help stakeholders in the renewable energy industry (including project managers, engineers, policy analysts, manufacturers, researchers, and utilities) make informed decisions about their grid-connected power projects. These projects can be on the customer side of the utility meter, where electricity is bought and sold at retail rates, or on the utility side of the meter, where electricity is sold at a price negotiated through a power purchase agreement.

Each performance model represents a project's power system and each financial model represents a project's financial structure. Users provide the data—such as installation and operating costs and system design parameters—and SAM provides the performance predictions and cost-of-energy estimates. SAM's easy-to-use interface allows virtually any user to build a renewable energy project model and to make cost and performance projections quickly based on model results.

Screen capture of the wind power model in SAM. The left menu bar allows users to select from Wind Resource, Turbine, Wind Farm, Performance Adjustment, Wind System Costs, Financing, Time of Delivery Factors, Incentives, and Depreciation. The screen capture shows the Wind Farm area of the menu selected, and the right side of the screen shows inputs for System Size and Turbine Layout, and including a Turbine Layout Map. Enlarge image

SAM users can input a number of parameters to derive detailed performance and cost analyses. The wind farm input screen is shown here.

For the wind industry, SAM's wind power model is geared toward projects involving one or more turbines and any of the available residential, commercial, or utility financing options. Specifically, the wind power model allows users to generate project operating cost and performance estimates by inputting data related to installation and operation and maintenance costs, hub height and wind shear, elevation, wake effects, and turbine design parameters, as well as wind farm layout, turbine spacing, and wind farm losses.

SAM's latest wind power model includes the following enhancements:

  • Integration of the wind turbine design model with SAM’s wind farm model
  • A cost estimate option for land-based and offshore wind farms
  • The ability to download data from the NREL Eastern Wind Dataset (including offshore sites in the eastern United States) and the Western Wind Dataset via the Location Lookup capability
  • New typical wind data files for representative U.S. locations
  • New hour-by-month performance adjustment factors to model curtailment and system availability.

In addition, all SAM users can now:

  • Automatically download incentive data from the Database for State Incentives for Renewable Energy
  • Export cash flow to Microsoft Excel with formulas for all financial models (i.e., residential, commercial, and utility scale)
  • Create automatic reports using new report templates.

—Elizabeth Spencer