Quantifying Interannual Variability for Photovoltaic Systems in PVWatts

David Ryberg, Janine Keith, Nathan Blair

Research output: NRELTechnical Report


The National Renewable Energy Laboratory's (NREL's) PVWatts is a relatively simple tool used by industry and individuals alike to easily estimate the amount of energy a photovoltaic (PV) system will produce throughout the course of a typical year. PVWatts Version 5 has previously been shown to be able to reasonably represent an operating system's output when provided with concurrent weather data, however this type of data is not available when estimating system output during future time frames. For this purpose PVWatts uses weather data from typical meteorological year (TMY) datasets which are available on the NREL website. The TMY files represent a statistically 'typical' year which by definition excludes anomalous weather patterns and as a result may not provide sufficient quantification of project risk to the financial community. It was therefore desired to quantify the interannual variability associated with TMY files in order to improve the understanding of risk associated with these projects. To begin to understand the interannual variability of a PV project, we simulated two archetypal PV system designs, which are common in the PV industry, in PVWatts using the NSRDB's 1961-1990 historical dataset. This dataset contains measured hourly weather data and spans the thirty years from 1961-1990 for 239 locations in the United States. To note, this historical dataset was used to compose the TMY2 dataset. Using the results of these simulations we computed several statistical metrics which may be of interest to the financial community and normalized the results with respect to the TMY energy prediction at each location, so that these results could be easily translated to similar systems. This report briefly describes the simulation process used and the statistical methodology employed for this project, but otherwise focuses mainly on a sample of our results. A short discussion of these results is also provided. It is our hope that this quantification of the interannual variability of PV systems will provide a starting point for variability considerations in future PV system designs and investigations. however this type of data is not available when estimating system output during future time frames.
Original languageAmerican English
Number of pages27
StatePublished - 2015

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/TP-6A20-64880


  • interannual variability
  • PV modeling
  • PVWatts
  • uncertainty


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