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Solar Energy Forecasting and Resource Assessment - Jan Kleissl

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1

Terms and Definitions

Tom Stoffel,    Solar Resources and Forecasting Group, National Renewable Energy Laboratory

Chapter Outline

1.1. Introduction

1.2. Overview of Solar-Power Conversion Technologies

1.2.1. Photovoltaic

1.2.2. Concentrating Solar Power

1.3. Solar Power Versus Solar Irradiance

1.4. Direct, Diffuse, and Global Solar Radiation and Instrumentation

1.5. Atmospheric Properties Affecting Solar Irradiance

References

1.1 Introduction

The reader may feel inclined to skip this chapter to delve into the real content of the book. However, The information given here will prepare the reader to better absorb the detailed and comprehensive subject matter provided by a group of internationally recognized authors in subsequent chapters.

Fundamentally, this book addresses a critical need to reduce the technical and financial risks of deploying solar-energy conversion technologies for producing electricity. Many of these risks can be mitigated through a better understanding of available solar-resource assessment and forecasting methods applicable to each solar-energy conversion technology. Unlike conventional sources of power, solar-energy conversion systems must rely on a more diffuse (lower-energy-density) fuel that is driven by the weather and therefore varies in quantity with time and location. Accurate solar-energy forecasting and resource assessment can reduce the risk in selecting the project location, designing the appropriate solar-energy conversion technology, and operating new sources of solar-power generation integrated into the electricity grid.

Solar-resource assessment is the characterization of solar irradiance available for energy conversion for a region or specific location over a historical time period of interest. Solar-energy forecasting is required for the routine operation of an electrical grid with solar-power generation. Specifically, the information produced through solar-resource assessment and accurate solar-energy forecasting is important to each phase of a solar-power conversion project:

• Feasibility phase: Identifying potential system locations and power-technology options based on historically available solar resources and economic, engineering, logistical, and other project constraints.

• Design phase: Selecting the best power-conversion technology option and modeling plausible system configurations for producing the desired power output over the life of the system

• Deployment phase: Applying due diligence in the construction, performance testing, and commissioning of the power system.

• Operation phase: Integrating new power-generation systems into routine operation by an electrical utility, consistent with the needs of independent system operators (ISOs), regional transmission organizations (RTOs), and regulatory agencies (e.g., Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, or FERC).

This chapter addresses four topics designed to give the reader a shared vocabulary and understanding of the latest technological developments driving solar-energy forecasting and resource assessment. Section 1.2 summarizes solar-power conversion technologies and their corresponding needs for solar-resource information. Section 1.3 covers solar-power versus solar-irradiance and related terminology. Section 1.4 describes fundamental solar-resource components and their measurement. Section 1.5 presents an overview of the atmospheric properties affecting solar-irradiance and available solar-resource forecasting tools to prepare the reader for the content of subsequent chapters.

1.2 Overview of Solar-Power Conversion Technologies

Solar energy can be converted to chemical, electrical, and thermal forms of energy. This section briefly summarizes the energy-conversion technologies used to generate electricity, and it introduces the relevant aspects of solar-energy forecasting and resource assessment.

1.2.1 Photovoltaic

Photovoltaic (PV) systems use semiconductor materials for the direct conversion of light into electricity by the photoelectric effect, which was first observed by Heinrich Hertz in 1887 and explained by Albert Einstein in 1905. The amount of electricity produced by the photoelectric effect is a function of semiconductor composition and the intensity and wavelength of solar radiation available to the PV device (Hertz, 1887; Einstein, 1905). By 1954, three researchers at Bell Laboratories had developed the first practical solar battery—a PV cell that converted 6% of the incident solar radiation to electricity (Perlin, 2004). Advances in the research and development of PV devices have steadily produced increases in conversion efficiency, with the present world record at 43.5% (Figure 1.1).

FIGURE 1.1 Chronology of improvements in PV-cell efficiencies according to device technology since 1976. (Courtesy of NREL Image Gallery, http://www.nrel.gov/ncpv/images.) This figure is reproduced in color in the color section.

Initially a high-value source of electricity used for space applications with total production capacities measured in watts, the global PV industry now provides an installed capacity of more than 40 GW and is growing about 25% annually (REN21, 2011). PV technologies are used in a variety of collector designs, including flat panels positioned at a fixed tilt or on Sun-following trackers, integrated into building designs (building-integrated PV, or BIPV) and deployed in concentrating PV (CPV) systems, as shown in Figure 1.2. The amount of solar radiation available to each of these collector modes and orientations requires special consideration when assessing historical solar resources or when forecasting operational system performance.

FIGURE 1.2 Examples of commercially available PV systems for producing electricity in a variety of applications: (a) fixed-tilt PV arrays; (b) polycrystalline PV modules; (c) fixed-tilt PV arrays; (d) thin-film PV roof shingles; (e) concentrating PV on 2-axis tracker; (f) building-integrated PV. (Courtesy of NREL Image Gallery, http://images.nrel.gov.) This figure is reproduced in color in the color section.

The modular nature of PV systems is well suited to rooftop distributed generation, where electrical power is produced near the point of use, but is also scalable for larger, utility-scale central power generation, which requires electricity transmission . Understanding the spatial variability of solar radiation is important for the success of both distributed- and central-generation systems. PV systems have a very fast response to changes in solar radiation (settling time for individual cells is ∼10 μs). Therefore, the temporal variations in solar radiation must be characterized to design and operate a PV system that can provide the most stable power output.

Photovoltaic devices are based on single- and multicrystalline silicon (most prevalent), amorphous silicon, microcrystalline silicon, or polycrystalline thin-film materials such as cadmium telluride (CdTe) and copper indium gallium diselenide (CIGS). Multijunction PV devices have achieved the highest energy-conversion efficiencies. In late 2012, the world record for PV cell efficiency was 43.5% for a GaInP/GaAs/GaLnNAs(Sb) (Kurt, 2012). To predict electrical-power output, each PV technology requires specific information about the broadband amount and spectral distribution of solar irradiance available to the device (Figure 1.3). Because the performance of PV devices depends on several environmental factors, standards have been developed for rating PV modules based on reference test conditions, including standards for the spectral distribution of solar irradiance (ASTM International,; Myers, 2011).

FIGURE 1.3 Spectral response functions of selected PV materials illustrating their selective abilities to convert solar irradiance to electricity. (Courtesy of Chris Gueymard.) This figure is reproduced in color in the color section.

Electrical power is the product of voltage (V) and current (I). The power produced by a PV device is characterized by an I-V curve. As shown in Figure 1.4, the maximum power point on an I-V curve is determined by the PV device voltage and current characteristics corresponding to amount of incident solar irradiance, electrical load, and device temperature. The short-circuit current varies proportionally with incident solar irradiance (Figure 1.5), and the power output decreases with increasing device temperature (Figure 1.6). The semiconductor materials used in a PV device fundamentally determine these response characteristics.

FIGURE 1.4 PV system performance characteristics determined by short-circuit current (Isc) and open-circuit voltage (Voc), and maximum power point (Pmax). This figure is reproduced in color in the color section.

FIGURE 1.5 PV-array short-circuit current (Isc) is proportional to solar irradiance incident to the module. Open-circuit voltage is much less dependent on irradiance level. This figure is reproduced in color in the color section.

FIGURE 1.6 Combined effects of solar irradiance and array temperature on PV-array power output. This figure is reproduced in color in the color section.

1.2.2 Concentrating Solar Power

Concentrating solar power (CSP; defined here to exclude CPV) converts solar radiation to thermal energy to produce steam that powers an electrical generator or to operate an external combustion engine/generator combination. This utility-scale application relies on direct (beam) solar radiation, as described below, to generate tens to hundreds of megawatts of electrical power from a CSP system. There are several methods for concentrating solar radiation on a thermal receiver to produce working temperatures from 500°C to more than 1000°C (Figure 1.7). Solar-power towers use hundreds to thousands of heliostats (2-axis Sun-tracking mirrors) to reflect solar radiation onto a central tower-mounted receiver. The receiver is an efficient heat exchanger used to transfer solar-thermal energy to a working fluid, typically a molten salt, stored in large tanks. The heat is used to drive a turbine generator in a manner similar to that in conventional fossil-fueled power stations.

FIGURE 1.7 Examples of CSP systems for converting high levels of DNI to heat and electricity (a) parabolic trough collector; (b) power tower and heliostats; (c) dish sterling engine; (d) linear Fresnel collector. (Courtesy of NREL Image Gallery, http://images.nrel.gov.) This figure is reproduced in color in the color section.

Linear trough collector technologies rely on parabolic mirrors or a series of Fresnel reflectors to concentrate direct solar radiation onto a tubular receiver aligned at the collector’s line of focus. These modular designs are mounted on 1-axis solar trackers usually oriented north/south and rotated east to west during the day to continuously focus direct solar radiation onto a linear receiver tube. A heat-transfer fluid circulates through the receiver tube into a series of heat exchangers where the fluid is used to generate high-pressure superheated steam before returning to the solar collector. The steam is used by a turbine generator to make electricity.

Dish Stirling engines are mounted at the focal point of a parabolic-dish reflector that is continuously aligned with the Sun by a 2-axis tracker. The heat-transfer fluid in the receiver is heated to 250°C–700°C for use by an external combustion Stirling engine to generate electrical power. Providing high efficiencies, modular parabolic-dish systems are scalable to meet the needs of communities for distributed power and those of electrical utilities for central generation . As with all CSP technologies, dish Stirling systems require resource information for direct (beam) solar irradiance.

1.3 Solar Power Versus Solar Irradiance

Forecasting solar irradiance is an important first step toward predicting the performance of a solar-energy conversion system and ensuring stable operation of the electricity grid. Solar irradiance is expressed as a radiant flux density or power density (W/m−2). The amount of solar-power available to a conversion system is the solar-irradiance incident to the collector(s) multiplied by the system’s total effective collector area (W/m−2 × m² = W). Electrical utilities operate their generation systems and bill their customers based on the amount of energy used or the power during a period of time (kWh). The process of estimating electrical energy generated by a solar-conversion system is based on the available solar irradiance and many other factors that address the specific system-design performance and important environmental factors at the time of interest. PV plants are fairly linear in their conversion of solar power to electricity; that is, their overall conversion efficiency during operation typically changes less than 20%. On the other hand, thermal inertia and thermodynamic nonlinearities make relating CSP production to direct normal irradiance (DNI )more challenging, at least at short timescales. A number of models are available for estimating solar-energy conversion system performance (Marion et al., 2006; Gilman & Dobos, 2012; PVSYST; Lilienthal, 2005).

1.4 Direct, Diffuse, and Global Solar Radiation and Instrumentation

Since the first attempts by Claude Pouillet to determine the Sun’s radiant power in the early nineteenth century (Vignola et al., 2012), the complex interactions of solar radiation with the Earth’s atmosphere and surface have continued to be the subject of research investigations addressing the needs of renewable-energy conversion technologies and climate studies. In fact, Pouillet’s original work to determine the amount of broadband solar radiation produced by the Sun, now called total solar irradiance (TSI), remains an active research topic (Kopp & Lean, 2011; Fröhlich, 2009). For this introduction, it is helpful to begin the discussion by establishing the presently accepted value for TSI at the mean Earth–Sun distance as 1366 ± 7 W/m² (Stoffel et al., 2010). The elliptical orbit of the Earth causes the solar irradiance at the top of the atmosphere to vary from about 1415 W/m² at perigee (around January 3) to about 1321 W/m² at apogee (around July 4). Estimating the amount of radiation at the Earth’s surface from these relatively predictable levels of solar irradiance becomes more challenging when we take into account the effects of the atmosphere on the radiation transit.

As shown in Figure 1.8, three fundamental components of solar radiation at the Earth’s surface are of interest to solar-energy forecasting and resource assessment:

Direct normal irradiance (DNI): solar-beam radiation available from the solar disk on a planar surface normal to the Sun as measured by a pyrheliometer with a 5˚–5.7˚ full-angle field of view.

Diffuse horizontal irradiance (DHI): solar radiation from the sky dome, not including DNI, that has been scattered by clouds, aerosols, and other atmospheric constituents available on a horizontal surface, as measured by a shaded pyranometer with a 180˚ field of view.

Global horizontal irradiance (GHI): Total hemispheric down-welling solar radiation on a horizontal surface, as measured by an unshaded pyranometer.

FIGURE 1.8 Solar-radiation components resulting from interactions with the Earth’s atmosphere and surface provide POA irradiance to a flat-plate collector (POA = Direct + Diffuse + Ground-reflected). (Courtesy of Al Hicks, NREL.) This figure is reproduced in color in the color section.

The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) provides detailed guidelines for the measurement practices, instrument specifications, and operational procedures concerning these solar-components (World Meteorological Organization, 2008).

The three solar-irradiance components are related. On any surface, direct plus diffuse irradiance equals global irradiance. For a horizontal surface, DNI can be converted to direct horizontal using the solar-zenith angle (SZA) at the time of interest:

The time-series plot in Figure 1.9 illustrates the temporal variability of these solar-irradiance components under clear and cloudy sky conditions. From these three basic components, it is possible to estimate the solar irradiance available to collectors with any orientation—that is, POA irradiance) (Perez & Stewart, 1986). These estimates for flat-plate collectors have added uncertainties due to assumptions about sky and ground conditions at the time of interest. Measuring flat-plate POA solar irradiance with a pyranometer greatly reduces data uncertainty. Because of the narrow viewing geometry of collector designs used by CPV and CSP technologies, POA solar irradiance for these systems can be determined from the DNI component. Because DNI data are relatively uncommon, models for estimating this critical solar component from the more prevalent GHI data are available (Perez et al., 1990; Perez et al., 1992).