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Comparison of PV System Design Software Packages for Urban applications

Arbi Gharakhani Siraki, Student Member, IEEE, and Pragasen Pillay, Fellow IEEE
P. D. Ziogas Power Electronics Laboratory Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering Concordia University 1455 de Maisonneuve Blvd. W. Montreal, Quebec H3G 1M8, Canada Phone: +1/(514) 848-2424, ext. 8741 Fax: +1/(514) 848-2802 EML: ar_ghar@encs.concordia.ca, pillay@encs.concordia.ca

Abstract. Renewable energy resources have been considered one of the most promising energy alternatives to be used instead of conventional fossil fuels. Urban environments are attractive spots for local power generation due to their high density of power consumption and their distance from power generating centers. Among different types of renewable technologies, photovoltaic panels are most suitable for urban applications. A large number of software packages are available for solar resource evaluation. However, only few of them are designed specifically for urban applications. In this paper a comparison has been made between the results of two specifically designed solar tools known as the Ecotect 2010 and the PVsyst 5.05 software packages for a specific case of a downtown building in Montreal. Conclusions have been made for proper use of these packages based on their specifications and privileges. Moreover, to find out the magnitude of the error caused by use of a generic solar tool instead of a specific one, the calculations have been repeated using the HOMER software package for the same location. The results suggest that a generic solar software tool should not be used for an urban application. Key words: Photovoltaic panel (PV), simulation software package, urban application I. INTRODUCTION Increase in energy demand and the limited nature of conventional energy sources are among the main concerns of all the nations around the world. In the competitive state of our era, access to secure sources of the energy is a critical point for the advancement of developing nations as well as a national security concern for developed ones. The environmental impacts caused by the devastating effects of the fossil fuels makes researchers to look for new types of alternative sources to be substituted for the conventional ones. Renewable energy resources with their entire associated shortcomings are found to be one of the most promising solutions for the energy demand of the upcoming years.

Cities with high density of population and power consumption are among the best locations for exploitation of renewable energy technologies. Local clean power production in cities improves the quality of life, reduces transmission, distribution losses and cancels out the necessity of new transmission line constructions. Among different type of renewable technologies, photovoltaic (PV) panels are the most appropriate one for urban applications. This is mainly due to their noiseless operation, long life time, and the possibility of being embedded into a building structure. Constant decline in cost of PV modules in recent years has made a noticeable increase in grid connected applications in comparison to the off grid applications as shown in Fig. 1. Grid connected vs. off grid installation trend in IEA PVPS memeber countries 100% 90% 80% 70% 60% 50% 40% 30% 20% 10% 0% 1993 1994 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 Grid connected Off-Grid Fig.1 Comparison between grid connected and off-grid installed capacity in IEA PVPS member countries [1]. During recent years, numerous software packages were developed for the purpose of solar energy and PV system calculation and design. Some of these tools were designed specifically for urban applications while the others were intended for non-urban generic solar calculations. In this paper a comparison has been made between two specifically designed urban solar tools known as the Ecotect 2010 [2] and the PVsyst 5.05 [3] software packages for a specific case of a downtown building in Montreal. Comments and conclusions have been made for proper use of these packages based on specifications and privileges of each one. Moreover, to find out the magnitude of the error caused by use of a generic tool instead of a specific one, the HOMER [4] software package has been used for the same location. The results suggest that a generic solar calculation software tool should not be used for an urban application.

II. PV SYSTEM DESIGN TOOLS HOMER [4], RETscreen [5], Hybrid2 [6] are generic software packages mainly developed for hybrid system optimization and cost analysis. These tools support resource side calculations and they can be used for solar energy and PV production level estimations. Free availability is the main advantage of all these tools. However, as it will be shown later they are not suitable for an urban application. Ecotect [2], PVsyst [3], Solar pro [7] and Sombero [8] are solar and PV system design tools that are specifically designed for an urban application. Due to their three dimensional CAD environment, they are capable of considering the effects of the surrounding obstacles in their calculations. As mentioned earlier, in the following sections, the Ecotect, the PVsyst and the HOMER software packages (the most popular choices) are introduced for a case of an urban PV system design and are compared based on their results for a specific case of a downtown building in Montreal as shown in Fig. 2.

Projects Location

Fig.2 Location of the case study [9] III. ECOTECT 2010 The Ecotect [2] is a building design software package developed by Autodesk Company as a tool to design environmentally friendly buildings. It provides a professional environment for insolation level and shading analysis. One of the biggest merits of this tool is its compatibility with most three dimensional file types. This means one can import any complicated 3D structure

(created in the other professional drawing software packages) into this tool and then perform analysis.

Fig.2 Model of the selected neighbourhood imported to the Ecotect software package [2]. The neighbourhood of the area shown in Fig. 2 is modeled in the AutoCAD software package and then imported to the Ecotect tool as shown in Fig. 3. The capability of this tool to perform separate shading analysis creates an opportunity to study the PV system optimal placement and to design a proper building integrated PV system. The result of the shading analysis for the roof of the selected building has been shown in Fig. 4.

Fig.4. Roof top shading analysis for the selected building

As it can be seen in Fig. 4 (as an example), the average annual shading on the roof of the selected building is around 25%. Also, shading in one side of the roof is around 50% less than the other side. Based on this study, in the case of PV panel installation, it would be more sensible to locate PV panels in the side with lower shading. A negative aspect of this tool is that it only considers a constant efficiency value to calculate the electrical output of the PV panels. The power losses due to the partial shadowing effects, mismatches between connected PV modules, wiring and inverter losses, and the effect of temperature variations are neglected in the electrical output power calculations. This fact makes it inaccurate in terms of the electrical output energy estimation. IV. PVSYST 5.05 The PVsyst [3] software package has been developed at the University of Geneva for study, simulation, and design of PV systems. It contains a 3D CAD modeling environment and takes care of the effects caused by the surrounding obstacles. However, there is no possibility to import complex 3D models into this tool and one is required to create a 3D model using its available simple blocks. This makes the modeling step complicated, time consuming, and not accurate. The selected neighbourhood has been modeled in this tool as shown in Fig. 5.

Fig.5 Model of the selected neighbourhood created in the PVsyst software package [3]. The library of the PVsyst software contains detailed data of the most common PV modules, inverters and whatever is required for a PV system project. Moreover, it accounts for losses due to the partial shadowing effects, mismatches between connected PV modules, wiring losses, inverter losses and the effect of the ambient temperature variations on its electrical output power

calculation. This feature makes it an accurate tool to estimate the amount of electrical energy generated by a designed system. This is a significant merit for this tool in comparison to the Ecotect. However, its 3D CAD environment is not as advanced as the Ecotect software package. V. HOMER The HOMER [4] software package is a micro grid optimization tool developed by National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and accessible freely from its website. It has a PV calculation feature that estimates output of a typical PV installation based on the locations meteorological and the installation data. However, it neither supports any neighbourhood modeling nor considers effects of the surrounding obstacles on the PV panel. That makes it an inaccurate tool for an urban application. However its calculations are still valid and accurate for non-urban case. V. SIMULATION RESULTS AND DISCUSSIONS In order to be able to compare the results of the introduced software packages for the case of the downtown building in Montreal, it is necessary to use as much the same input data as possible for all tools. These data are as follows: - Meteorological data - Neighbourhood model - PV panel orientation and placement - PV panels maximum installed power - Same efficiency for panels - Same ground reflectance coefficient The hourly meteorological data of the Montreal International Airport is obtained from the website of the U.S. Department of the Energy in the Energy plus (EPW) weather file format [10]. It is then converted to MET format and imported to the PVsyst software library using its meteorological tool. In case of the Ecotect, this file was converted to the acceptable weather format of WEA using the weather tool accompanying the Ecotect software package. The average monthly horizontal global radiation of the Montreal International Airport has been used in the HOMER software package. Since latitude of the Montreal is 45.5 north, PV modules are considered to have 45 tilt angle. Considering physical obstacles on the roof and the architectural design of the building, a system with 37kWp power is considered for this case study as shown in Fig 6. This system made up of 20 sets of 13m2 (5m x 2.6m) arrays each one consists of 10 PV modules (Sharp NU-185W model with 14.14 % efficiency [11]).

Fig. 6 Roof top PV installation for the selected building in the Ecotect software package. The same PV system is modeled in the PVsyst software package as shown in Fig. 7.

Fig. 7 Roof top PV installation for the selected building in the PVsyst software package. The average monthly insolation levels that were calculated with the Ecotect and the PVsyst software packages (for a plane tilted with 45 degrees), are compared in Fig.8. It is necessary to mention that the Ecotect software package always assumes the value of the ground reflectance ratio to be equal to 0.2. However, this value is adjustable in the PVsyst tool and user can change the value based on the surrounding materials. Thus, the value of the ground reflectance ratio is considered to be equal to 0.2 in PVsyst software package to create the same condition.

160 140 120 100 80 60 40 20 0 Mar Jul Aug Nov Apr May Dec Feb Sep Oct Jun Jan

Insolation (kWh/m2)

Pvsyst

Ecotect

Fig.8. Comparison of the monthly insolation levels on 45 tilted planes computed by the PVsyst and the Ecotect software packages for the shown neighbourhood As it can be seen from Fig. 8 the value of the monthly insolation levels calculated with both software packages are very close to each other. As a comparison point, the difference between annual insolation levels is around 5.7%. The small discrepancies can be caused due to the probable differences between the sky models used in each software package. In order to estimate the monthly electrical energy production level in the PVsyst software package it is required to specify the following specifications for the designed system. Number of PV modules that are connected in series to made up a string. Total number of strings in the system. Power, efficiency and total number of inverters. Inverters can be chosen from the database available in the library of the package.

For our system, 10 PV modules are considered to be in series in each string. The whole installation made up of 20 strings and each 2 string are connected in parallel to one 3.7 kW (The Ingecon Sun 3.68 TL [12]) inverter. The efficiency of the chosen inverter is around 96%. As mentioned earlier, the Ecotect software package only considers a constant efficiency in its electrical power calculations. Thus the efficiency of 14.14 % was considered for modules and 96% for inverters. The amount of monthly electrical energy generation was calculated and compared in Fig. 9.

6000 Electrical Energy (kWh) 5000 4000 3000 2000 1000 0 Mar Aug May Nov Dec Jun Apr Jul Feb Sep Oct Jan

PVsyst

Ecotect

Fig.9. Comparison of monthly electrical energy production levels calculated with the PVsyst and the Ecotect software packages As it can be seen in Fig. 9, there is a significant discrepancy between the results of the two software packages. These observations are quite reasonable by considering the fact that the partial shadowing effects, mismatches between connected PV modules, and the wiring losses reduce the amount of the energy production in the whole year. Since these effects are neglected in the Ecotect software tool the result of the PVsyst software package is expected to be lower for the all months of the year. However, low temperatures during the winter months increase the power production level of the system during the winter period and that compensates the power reduction due to the losses. The PVsyst software package accounts for the effect of the ambient temperature in its electrical power calculations as shown in Table I, while the Ecotect tool neglects this effect. Table I. PVsyst calculation results Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Ambient Temp. C -9.84 -9.43 -2.72 6.49 13.03 18.37 20.44 19.99 14.62 8.24 2.61 -6.82 Insolation on tilted panel kWh/m2 38.3 64.6 127.3 119.8 136.7 137.7 141.1 140.3 122.1 66.1 30.7 29.5 Arrays output Energy kWh 1434 2431 4547 4052 4478 4415 4487 4442 3970 2253 1056 1071 Energy injected to Grid kWh 1349 2312 4335 3857 4264 4207 4276 4235 3783 2131 980 997

As it is well known, the power production level of a PV module is reduced by increase in the ambient temperature. This is evident from Table I if the months of March and May are compared. As it can be seen, while the insolation level is higher in May, the amount of produced electricity is higher in March due to lower ambient temperature in that month. All in all, the annual electrical energy production level of the simulated system will be estimated around 17.3% more if the Ecotect software package is used instead of the PVsyst tool. Considering all the points mentioned above, it can be concluded that the PVsyst software package is a more accurate tool in terms of the electrical power calculations. In order to get an idea about the magnitude of the error caused by use of a generic solar tool (which does not account for the effects of the surrounding obstacles) in an urban environment, the result of the HOMER software package has been compared in Fig. 10 with the result of the Ecotect tool (with neglecting the temperature effects). 7000.00 Electrical Energy (kWh) 6000.00 5000.00 4000.00 3000.00 2000.00 1000.00 0.00 Mar Aug May Nov Dec Jun Apr Jul Feb Sep Oct Jan

Ecotect

HOMER

Fig.10. Comparison of monthly electrical energy production levels calculated with the Ecotect and the HOMER software packages As it can be observed from Fig. 10, the amount of energy production level in summer period (April to September) is estimated very close to each by both tools. This is due to the fact that in summer period the sun altitude is high enough to avoid any significant shading on the panels. However, in the winter period, an unacceptable over estimation will be occurred in the case of using the HOMER software for electrical output energy calculation. The HOMER software has the feature to consider the effect of the ambient temperature on the PV panels production level. Therefore the same ambient temperature data as used in the PVsyst tool has been imported to the HOMER software environment for calculations.

The specifications of the Sharp NU-185W PV panel has been extracted from the relevant datasheet as shown in Table II [11]. These data have been considered for the temperature effect analysis in the HOMER software package. Table II. PV modules temperature specifications [11] Temperature coefficient of power (%/C) Nominal operating cell temp.( C) Efficiency at standard test condition. (%) -0.485% 25 14.14%

Finally the result of the HOMER software package has been compared with the one from the PVsyst tool as shown in Fig.11. 8000 7000 6000 5000 4000 3000 2000 1000 0 Mar Jul Aug Nov Apr May Dec Feb Sep Oct Jun Jan

Electrical Energy (kWh)

PVsyst

HOMER

Fig.11. Comparison of monthly electrical energy production levels calculated with the PVsyst and the HOMER software packages The HOMER software estimates the annual electrical energy production level at around 51% more than the value calculated by the PVsyst software package. Therefore it should not be used for the urban applications.

VI. CONCLUSION The comparison of the Ecotect 2010 [2] and the PVsyst 5.05 [3] software packages (for the case of a downtown building in Montreal) suggests that: The Ecotect software package with its professional 3D environment and separate shading analysis shall be used in the basic design phase specifically for building integrated PV system design, accurate PV placement, and optimum orientation and angle selection purposes. The PVsyst software package is more suitable for the detail design phase when the system components are going to be chosen to have the highest possible outcome. Additionally, the estimated production of electrical energy is more accurate in this tool.

Comparison of the results of the HOMER software package for the same location with the PVsyst tool suggests that a generic solar tool should not be used for an urban application. REFERENCES [1] Trends in photovoltaic applications survey report of selected IEA countries between1992 and 2008, online available at:www.iea-pvps.org/products/download/rep1_18.pdf [2] Ecotect 2010 software package: usa.autodesk.com/adsk/servlet/pc/index?id=12602821&siteID=123112 [3] PVsyst 5.05 software package trial version availability: www.pvsyst.com/ch/install.php [4] HOMER software package online availability: www.analysis.nrel.gov/homer. [5] RETscreen software package online availability: www.retscreen.net/ang/home.php [6] Hybrid2 software package online availability: www.ceere.org/rerl/projects/software/hybrid2/download.html [7] Solar pro software package trial version 3.0 online availability: www.lapsys.co.jp/english/e_products/eproducts_sp.html [8] Sombero software package online availability: www. nesa1.uni-siegen.de [9] Navigatuer Urbain software package [online] available at :www.navurb.com [10] U.S. Department of the Energy, Energy Efficiency and Renewable energy, building technologies program, Energy plus energy simulation software, weather data online availability: www.apps1.eere.energy.gov/buildings/energyplus/cfm/weather_data3.cfm/region=4_north_a nd_central_america_wmo_region_4/country=3_canada/cname=CANADA [11] Sharp NU-185 PV panel data sheet online availability : www.sharp.co.uk/content/ebiz/sharp/resources/pdf/solarspecsheet_nu.pdf [12] Ingecon Sun 3.68 TL inverter datasheet online availability: http://www.ingeteam.it/userfiles/allegati/photovoltaicsolarenergyuk_1258046518.pdf