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NREL Handbook Helps Industry Collect and Interpret Solar Resource Data for Solar Energy Applications

February 24, 2015

Reliable information about the solar resource is required for every solar energy application, from small installations on a rooftop to large solar power plants. However, solar resource information is of particular interest for large installations, because they require substantial investment, sometimes exceeding $1 billion in construction costs. Before such a project is undertaken, the best possible information about the quality and reliability of the fuel source must be made available—that is, project developers need to have reliable data about the solar resource available at specific locations, including historic trends with seasonal, daily, hourly, and (preferably) subhourly variability to predict the daily and annual performance of a proposed power plant. Without this data, an accurate financial analysis is not possible.

Released this month, Best Practices Handbook for the Collection and Use of Solar Resource Data for Solar Energy Applications presents detailed information about solar resource data and the resulting data products needed for each stage of a solar energy project, from initial site selection to systems operations. It also contains a summary of solar forecasting and its development throughout the last few years. The U.S. Department of Energy's Solar Energy Technologies Office, project developers, engineering procurement construction firms, utility companies, system operators, energy suppliers, financial investors, and others involved in solar energy systems planning and development will find this handbook to be a valuable resource for the collection and interpretation of solar resource data. This handbook is expected to be used as a reference during each project stage.

The handbook is a comprehensive update of NREL's 2010 publication Concentrating Solar Power: Best Practices Handbook for the Collection and Use of Solar Resource Data, which was developed in response to a growing need by the solar energy industry for a single document to address the key aspects of solar resource characterization and recommend to industry the best way to use solar resource data for site selection and estimating power plant performance. As the solar energy industry has developed rapidly throughout the last few years, there have been significant enhancements in the body of knowledge in the areas of solar resource assessment and forecasting. Thus, this second version of the handbook was developed to update and enhance the initial version and present the state of the art in a condensed form for all of its users. It was also decided that additional solar technologies, such as photovoltaics, would be incorporated along with additional aspects of energy meteorology that have become extremely important, such as solar forecasting.

While the first version of the handbook was developed by NREL researchers, the updated version has additional contributions from an international group of experts primarily from the knowledge that has been gained through participation in the International Energy Agency's Solar Heating and Cooling Programme Task 36 and Task 46.

Learn more about NREL's resource assessment and forecasting work.

—Devonie McCamey