Short-Term Solar Irradiance Forecasting via Satellite/Model Coupling

Manajit Sengupta, Steven Miller, Matthew Rogers, John Haynes, Andrew Heidinger

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

105 Scopus Citations


The short-term (0–3 h) prediction of solar insolation for renewable energy production is a problem well-suited to satellite-based techniques. The spatial, spectral, temporal and radiometric resolution of instrumentation hosted on the geostationary platform allows these satellites to describe the current cloud spatial distribution and optical properties. These properties relate directly to the transient properties of the downwelling solar irradiance at the surface, which come in the form of ‘ramps’ that pose a central challenge to energy load balancing in a spatially distributed network of solar farms. The short-term evolution of the cloud field may be approximated to first order simply as translational, but care must be taken in how the advection is handled and where the impacts are assigned. In this research, we describe how geostationary satellite observations are used with operational cloud masking and retrieval algorithms, wind field data from Numerical Weather Prediction (NWP), and radiative transfer calculations to produce short-term forecasts of solar insolation for applications in solar power generation. The scheme utilizes retrieved cloud properties to group pixels into contiguous cloud objects whose future positions are predicted using four-dimensional (space + time) model wind fields, selecting steering levels corresponding to the cloud height properties of each cloud group. The shadows associated with these clouds are adjusted for sensor viewing parallax displacement and combined with solar geometry and terrain height to determine the actual location of cloud shadows. For mid/high-level clouds at mid-latitudes and high solar zenith angles, the combined displacements from these geometric considerations are non-negligible. The cloud information is used to initialize a radiative transfer model that computes the direct and diffuse-sky solar insolation at both shadow locations and intervening clear-sky regions. Here, we describe the formulation of the algorithm and validate its performance against Surface Radiation (SURFRAD; Augustine et al., 2000, 2005) network observations. Typical errors range from 8.5% to 17.2% depending on the complexity of cloud regimes, and an operational demonstration outperformed persistence-based forecasting of Global Horizontal Irradiance (GHI) under all conditions by ∼10 W/m2.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)102-117
Number of pages16
JournalSolar Energy
StatePublished - 1 Jul 2018

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017 Elsevier Ltd

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/JA-5D00-70674


  • Advection
  • Cloud properties
  • Geostationary satellite
  • Parallax
  • Shadows
  • Solar irradiance


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