Proposal and Evaluation of Subordinate Standard Solar Irradiance Spectra for Applications in Solar Energy Systems

Aron Habte, Wilko Jessen, Stefan Wilbert, Christian Gueymard, Jesus Polo, Zeqiang Bian, Anton Driesse, Aitor Marzo, Peter Armstrong, Frank Vignola, Lourdes Ramirez

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

39 Scopus Citations


Reference solar irradiance spectra are needed to specify key parameters of solar technologies such as photovoltaic cell efficiency, in a comparable way. The IEC 60904-3 and ASTM G173 standards present such spectra for Direct Normal Irradiance (DNI) and Global Tilted Irradiance (GTI) on a 37° tilted sun-facing surface for one set of clear-sky conditions with an air mass of 1.5 and low aerosol content. The IEC/G173 standard spectra are the widely accepted references for these purposes. Hence, the authors support the future replacement of the outdated ISO 9845 spectra with the IEC spectra within the ongoing update of this ISO standard. The use of a single reference spectrum per component of irradiance is important for clarity when comparing and rating solar devices such as PV cells. However, at some locations the average spectra can differ strongly from those defined in the IEC/G173 standards due to widely different atmospheric conditions and collector tilt angles. Therefore, additional subordinate standard spectra for other atmospheric conditions and tilt angles are of interest for a rough comparison of product performance under representative field conditions, in addition to using the main standard spectrum for product certification under standard test conditions. This simplifies the product selection for solar power systems when a fully-detailed performance analysis is not feasible (e.g. small installations). Also, the effort for a detailed yield analyses can be reduced by decreasing the number of initial product options. After appropriate testing, this contribution suggests a number of additional spectra related to eight sets of atmospheric conditions and tilt angles that are currently considered within ASTM and ISO working groups. The additional spectra, called subordinate standard spectra, are motivated by significant spectral mismatches compared to the IEC/G173 spectra (up to 6.5%, for PV at 37° tilt and 10–15% for CPV). These mismatches correspond to potential accuracy improvements for a quick estimation of the average efficiency by applying the appropriate subordinate standard spectrum instead of the IEC/G173 spectra. The applicability of these spectra for PV performance analyses is confirmed at five test sites, for which subordinate spectra could be intuitively selected based on the average atmospheric aerosol optical depth (AOD) and precipitable water vapor at those locations. The development of subordinate standard spectra for DNI and concentrating solar power (CSP) and concentrating PV (CPV) is also considered. However, it is found that many more sets of atmospheric conditions would be required to allow the intuitive selection of DNI spectra for the five test sites, due in particular to the stronger effect of AOD on DNI compared to GTI. The matrix of subordinate GTI spectra described in this paper are recommended to appear as an option in the annex of future standards, in addition to the obligatory use of the main spectrum from the ASTM G173 and IEC 60904 standards.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)30-43
Number of pages14
JournalSolar Energy
StatePublished - 1 Jul 2018

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018 Elsevier Ltd

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/JA-5D00-70172


  • Efficiency rating
  • Solar spectra
  • Spectral response
  • Standardization


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