Quantifying Uncertainty in PV Energy Estimates Final Report

Matthew Prilliman, Clifford Hansen, Janine Keith, Steven Janzou, Marios Theristis, Aaron Scheiner, Ellis Ozakyol

Research output: NRELTechnical Report


Uncertainty in PV energy estimates is "one of the most critical areas of lack of understanding" according to independent engineers, financiers, PV model developers, and other industry stakeholders. The primary problem is a lack of rigorous, transparent, widely accepted methods for quantifying uncertainty in energy production estimates. Uncertainty in energy production estimates arises from variability of the solar resource, inexact PV performance models and their parameters, and system reliability considerations. Uncertainty in annual energy production is frequently calculated for larger projects in order to quantify financial risk. Key statistics for energy, such as the P-values "P50" and "P90" (the annual energy values that are exceeded in future years with 50\% and 90\% probability, respectively) are used by financing institutions to calculate the repayment risk for the project. The current methods to estimate these statistics are typically proprietary, specialized, and involve significant post-processing of commercial performance model results. This black-box approach leads to inconsistent P-value estimates from different parties, which reduces investors' confidence in the results. Since the financial community bases its risk assessment on these estimates, reduced confidence increases perceived project risk, and consequently financing costs. The goal of this project was to establish a set of best practices for quantifying uncertainty in energy production estimates, including identifying what sources of uncertainty must be considered with clear definitions and metrics, determining which sources are the biggest drivers of uncertainty, and providing a computationally efficient framework for combining different sources of uncertainty that is flexible enough to accommodate substitutions of data or methods when better information is available. We engaged a wide set of stakeholders to ensure industry endorsement and adoption, and leveraged complementary projects investigating individual sources of uncertainty in great detail, as well as others' work that started down this path.
Original languageAmerican English
Number of pages18
StatePublished - 2023

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/TP-7A40-84993


  • performance modelling
  • photovoltaics
  • uncertainty


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