NREL Pyrheliometer Comparisons: September 24 - October 5, 2018 (NPC-2018)

Research output: NRELTechnical Report


Accurate measurements of direct normal (beam) solar irradiance from pyrheliometers are important for developing and deploying solar energy conversion systems, improving our understanding of the Earth's energy budget for climate change studies, and for other science and technology applications involving solar flux. Providing these measurements places many demands on the quality system used by the operator of commercially available radiometers. Maintaining accurate radiometer calibrations that are traceable to an international standard is the first step in producing research-quality solar irradiance measurements. In 1977, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) established the World Radiometric Reference (WRR) as the international standard for the measurement of direct normal solar irradiance (Frohlich 1991). The WRR is an internationally recognized, detector-based measurement standard determined by the collective performance of six electrically self-calibrated absolute cavity radiometers comprising the World Standard Group (WSG). Various countries, including the United States, have contributed these specialized radiometers to the Physikalisch-Meteorologisches Observatorium Davos - World Radiation Center (PMOD/WRC) to establish the WSG. As with all measurement systems, Absolute Cavity Radiometers (ASR) are subject to performance changes over time. Therefore, PMOD/WRC in Davos, Switzerland, hosts an International Pyrheliometer Comparison (IPC) for transferring the WRR to participating radiometers quinquennialy by invitation. NREL has represented the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) in each IPC since 1980. As a result, NREL has developed and maintained a select group of absolute cavity radiometers with direct calibration traceability to the WRR, and uses these reference instruments to calibrate pyrheliometers and pyranometers using the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) 17025 accredited Broadband Outdoor Radiometer Calibration (BORCAL) process (Reda et al. 2008). To fill the gap between each IPC, NREL pyrheliometer comparisons (NPCs) are held annually at the Solar Radiation Research Laboratory (SRRL) in Golden, Colorado. Open to all ACR owners and operators, each NPC provides an opportunity to determine the unique WRR transfer factor (WRR-TF) for each participating pyrheliometer. By adjusting all subsequent pyrheliometer measurements by the appropriate WRR-TF, the solar irradiance data are traceable to the WRR. NPC-2018 was September 24 through October 5, 2018. Participants operated 43 ACRs to simultaneously measure clear-sky direct normal solar irradiance during this period. The Transfer Standard Group (TSG) of reference radiometers for NPC-2018 consisted of four NREL radiometers with direct traceability to the WRR, having participated in the Twelfth International Pyrheliometer Comparisons (IPC-XII) in the fall of 2015. As a result of NPC-2018, each participating absolute cavity radiometer was assigned a new WRR-TF, computed as the reference irradiance determined by the TSG divided by the observed irradiance from the participating radiometer. The performance of the TSG during NPC-2018 was consistent with previous comparisons, including IPC-XII. The measurement performance of the TSG allowed the transfer of the WRR to each participating radiometer with an estimated uncertainty of plus/minus 0.36% with respect to the International System of Units.
Original languageAmerican English
Number of pages47
StatePublished - 2018

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/TP-1900-72607


  • absolute cavity radiometer
  • NPC
  • PMOD
  • WRR


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