Evaluation of the National Solar Radiation Database (NSRDB Version 2): 1998-2015

Research output: NRELTechnical Report


This paper validates the performance of the physics-based Physical Solar Model (PSM) data set in the National Solar Radiation Data Base (NSRDB) to quantify the accuracy of the magnitude and the spatial and temporal variability of the solar radiation data. Achieving higher penetrations of solar energy on the electric grid and reducing integration costs requires accurate knowledge of the available solar resource. Understanding the impacts of clouds and other meteorological constituents on the solar resource and quantifying intra-/inter-hour, seasonal, and interannual variability are essential for accurately designing utility-scale solar energy projects. Solar resource information can be obtained from ground-based measurement stations and/or from modeled data sets. The availability of measurements is scarce, both temporally and spatially, because it is expensive to maintain a high-density solar radiation measurement network that collects good quality data for long periods of time. On the other hand, high temporal and spatial resolution gridded satellite data can be used to estimate surface radiation for long periods of time and is extremely useful for solar energy development. Because of the advantages of satellite-based solar resource assessment, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory developed the PSM. The PSM produced gridded solar irradiance -- global horizontal irradiance (GHI), direct normal irradiance (DNI), and diffuse horizontal irradiance -- for the NSRDB at a 4-km by 4-km spatial resolution and half-hourly temporal resolution covering the 18 years from 1998-2015. The NSRDB also contains additional ancillary meteorological data sets, such as temperature, relative humidity, surface pressure, dew point, and wind speed. Details of the model and data are available at https://nsrdb.nrel.gov. The results described in this paper show that the hourly-averaged satellite-derived data have a systematic (bias) error of approximately +5% for GHI and less than +10% for DNI; however, the scatter (root mean square error [RMSE]) difference is higher for the hourly averages.
Original languageAmerican English
Number of pages38
StatePublished - 2017

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/TP-5D00-67722


  • National Solar Radiation Data Base
  • Physical Solar Model
  • PSM
  • solar radiation data
  • spatial variability
  • temporal variability


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