PV Reference Cells for Outdoor Use: Comparison of First-Year Field Measurements

Anton Driesse, Peter Gotseff, Manajit Sengupta, Peter Gotseff (NREL Technical Monitor), Manajit Sengupta (NREL Technical Monitor)

Research output: NRELSubcontract Report


Reference cells are widely used in the photovoltaic (PV) industry to measure irradiance. For field applications and outdoor use, a variety of products are on the market, and they are often perceived as low-cost alternatives to thermopile pyranometers. But reference cell characteristics, such as directional and spectral response, fundamentally differ from pyranometers, and measurements made by the former cannot be substituted for or directly compared with the latter. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory's (NREL's) Solar Radiation Research Laboratory is currently in a multiyear effort to develop guidance and recommendations for the design and use of outdoor reference cells, with a view to reducing inconsistencies and measurement uncertainty. The core of this effort is the long-term deployment of multiple products from different manufacturers that are mounted at a fixed tilt, on a single-axis tracker, and on a dual-axis tracker. This report provides an analysis of the data collected during the first year of operation at the NREL location. An overall assessment is made by comparing the total energy measured by each instrument to the other instruments having the same orientation. These totals are calculated for three different scenarios: (1) using the factory calibration factors, (2) using the previously determined NREL Cell Lab calibration factors, and (3) using the newly determined field calibration factors derived from the recorded measurements. Because the true or correct measurement values are unknown, pair-wise comparisons are made. The results show that the difference between the highest and lowest measured energy can exceed 3% when using the factory calibration factors. Consistency among instruments improves when Cell Lab calibrations are used, and it further improves when using field calibration factors.
Original languageAmerican English
Number of pages52
StatePublished - 2022

Bibliographical note

Work performed by PV Performance Labs, Freiburg, Germany; NREL Technical Monitors: Peter Gotseff and Manajit Sengupta

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/SR-5D00-82086


  • calibration
  • photovoltaic
  • PV
  • reference cell
  • solar resource


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