An Extensive Comparison of Commercial Pyrheliometers under a Wide Range of Routine Observing Conditions

JOSEPH Michalsky, Ellsworth G. Dutton, Donald Nelson, James Wendell, Stephen Wilcox, Afshin Andreas, Peter Gotseff, Daryl Myers, Ibrahim Reda, Thomas Stoffel, Klaus Behrens, Thomas Carlund, Wolfgang Finsterle, David Halliwell

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28 Scopus Citations


In the most comprehensive pyrheliometer comparison known to date, 33 instruments were deployed to measure direct normal solar radiation over a 10-month period in Golden, Colorado. The goal was to determine their performance relative to four electrical-substitution cavity radiometers that were calibrated against the World Radiometric Reference (WRR) that is maintained at the World Radiation Center in Davos, Switzerland. Because of intermittent cabling problems with one of the cavity radiometers, the average of three windowed, electrical-substitution cavity radiometers served as the reference irradiance for 29 test instruments during the 10-month study. To keep the size of this work manageable, comparisons are limited to stable sunny conditions, passing clouds, calm and windy conditions, and hot and cold temperatures. Other variables could have been analyzed, or the conditions analyzed could have employed higher resolution. A more complete study should be possible now that the instruments are identified; note that this analysis was performed without any knowledge on the part of the analyst of the instruments' manufacturers or models. Apart from the windowed cavities that provided the best measurements, two categories of performance emerged during the comparison. All instruments exceeded expectations in that they measured with lower uncertainties than the manufacturers' own specifications. Operational 95% uncertainties for the three classes of instruments, which include the uncertainties of the open cavities used for calibration, were about 0.5%, 0.8%, and 1.4%. The open cavities that were used for calibration of all pyrheliometers have an estimated 95% uncertainty of 0.4%-0.45%, which includes the conservative estimate of 0.3% uncertainty for the WRR.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)752-766
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Atmospheric and Oceanic Technology
Issue number6
StatePublished - 2011

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/JA-550-48893


  • Instrumentation/sensors
  • Radiative fluxes


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