Carnegie Mellon University
Solar Resources

The following solar energy resouces provide background information and suggested links for data in global energy, economics, market trends, and frequently asked questions (FAQ). Compiled and assessed by: Yin Kay Wong, Ming-Lun Wu, Rushil Zutshi, and Gabriel Vizcaino (2017 updates by Coral Keller and 2018 updates by Ankit Kalanki)

The solar energy industry is growing rapidly and several national and international organizations are coming together and making efforts towards increasing the adoption and use of this vast available resource from the sun. The following web links are intended to make the students familiar with the key institutions and organizations that collect and analyse data, publish reports and trends, and continuously work in this domain to promote and increase the adoption of solar energy. 

SolarGIS is a global solar data provider. The company has developed a model that collects solar radiation data and meteorological information, and combines them with analytical tools to design, plan and monitor solar energy systems worldwide.

Among the variety of services offered by the company, there is a database along with an interactive map, that contain detail data of solar resources data for every place on Earth such as Global Horizontal Irradiation (GHI), Direct Normal Irradiation (DNI), Diffuse Horizontal Irradiation (DIF), and estimation of PV electricity yield. Historical data is provided in monthly, daily and hourly basis, and real-time data is accessible as well.

SolarGIS´s databases access has a price, however, they do share free PV Electricity Potential, GHI and DNI maps for public use. There are separate maps that provide multiyear average irradiation information for most of the countries, for different regions/continents, and for the world, in different languages. https://solargis.com/maps-and-gis-data/download/

The following link can also be used to access information on the solar radiation data - http://globalsolaratlas.info/

Global Energy Assessment Chapter 7: Energy Resources and Potentials is part of a report that was released in 2012 by the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) and presents resource and potential information on all sources of energy around the globe. The IIASA is an institution that conducts research on global policy-oriented problems. The chapter is divided by energy source and provides information on the theoretical and technical potential, economic potential, and environmental impact. Solar information can be found on pages 492-496 with information on potential for specific regions in Tables 7.38 and 7.39.

http://www.iiasa.ac.at/web/home/research/Flagship-Projects/Global-Energy-Assessment/Chapter7.en.html

The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) report on “Renewable Power Generation Costs in 2017”, presents and examines the evolution over time of the different costs involved in the installation of renewable power generation facilities across the world. Chapters 3 and 4 cover the assessment for solar Photovoltaics (PV) and Concentrated Solar Power (CSP), respectively. Nevertheless, there are several tables, graphs and paragraphs throughout the report, making reference to the status of these solar technologies and comparing them with the other renewables technologies and conventional power generation. Each chapter starts by tabulating the yearly evolution of: (i) new capacity installation worldwide, (ii) global cumulative installed capacity, (iii) regional weighted average installation cost, and (iv) regional weighted average Levelized Cost of Electricity (LCOE). Chapters also highlight the key facts and statistics regarding the development of both solar technologies at the beginning of the chapter.
This report is published by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), an intergovernmental organization that promotes penetration of renewable sources within countries’ energy matrix worldwide by providing knowledge and expertise, and by serving as a platform for international collaboration.

http://www.irena.org/-/media/Files/IRENA/Agency/Publication/2018/Jan/IRENA_2017_Power_Costs_2018.pdf 

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) is the United States’ primary laboratory for renewable energy and development. They are funded by the US Department of Energy. This report by the NREL provides information about the various kinds of costs involved in the utilization of renewable technologies. For electricity generation, Table 1 shows the statistics of installation cost, fixed and variable operation & maintenance cost, and life cycle for different scales of PV systems. In Table 2, similar information is provided for solar thermal technologies. These statistics are useful when calculating the LCOE associated with solar power.

https://www.nrel.gov/analysis/tech-lcoe-re-cost-est.html

There is an LCOE calculator tool available (below), which helps the user calculating the LCOE for a particular project by filling the fields with own data or with the information provided in tables mentioned above.

http://www.nrel.gov/analysis/tech_lcoe.html

The United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) published the first Global Land Outlook in 2017 that provides a detailed information on the land use pattern by human civilization for different purposes. The outlook provides key insights on the land use requirement for the different types of energy generation sources include solar photovoltaics (PV) and concentrated solar power (CSP). The report can be accessed at https://www2.unccd.int/publications/global-land-outlook. Chapter 10, Pg. 212 of the report discusses the energy – land nexus.

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) report on “Land-Use Requirements for Solar Power Plants in the United States” makes comparisons of land-use requirements between different types of solar power facilities such as small PV, large PV, and CSP facilities in the US. In this report, you can find information about the capacity, the capacity weighted and generation weighted average area requirements for total and direct land-use. The report can be accessed at https://www.nrel.gov/docs/fy13osti/56290.pdf.

The renewable energy sector has observed a rapid growth over the years. The sector has seen a continuous increase in the number of jobs and employed 9.8 million people around the world in 2016 (IRENA, 2017). Solar PV employed about 3.1 million people around the world in 2016, the largest among all the renewables. The annual report by the IRENA “Renewable Energy and Jobs, Annual Review 2017” provides information on the number of jobs provided by the solar industry and other renewable energy sources in different countries around the world. The report can be accessed at http://www.irena.org/publications/2017/May/Renewable-Energy-and-Jobs--Annual-Review-2017.

The Solar Foundation, a non-profit organization, provides information on the jobs provided by the U.S. solar industry through its “National Solar Job Census”. The annual report provides a detailed information on the solar industry jobs across different states and demographics. This report can be accessed/downloaded by providing some basic information at https://www.thesolarfoundation.org/national/

There are several sources where you can find solar irradiation data and maps, depending on the resolution required and desired geographic area. Most of the detailed information is collected, processed and offered by specialized companies, so you may have to pay to access these data. However, some sources provide macroscale resolution information for free, mainly governmental agencies. In the following website, there is table that summarizes the most utilized meteorological databases, including the resolution of the information, regions, periods available and way of accessibility.

http://www.pvsyst.com/en/publications/meteo-data-sources

The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) produces an annual report that tabulates, by region and country, the total installed capacity of PV and CSP yearly since 2000. The 2015 report can be downloaded in following link: http://www.irena.org/menu/index.aspx?mnu=Subcat&PriMenuID=36&CatID=141&SubcatID=604 [pp. 24 – 27]


The information on capacity installations of solar PV and CSP technology can be obtained from a variety of organizations that continuously publish reports and trends for different countries and regions of the world. The following links will direct you to the website and most recent reports from these organizations:

Energy pay-back time (EPBT) represents the time needed by a device to generate enough energy to compensate the energy used on its production. It can serve as an indicator that determines whether is worth it to devote resources on solar power facilities. For example, for the crystalline silicon PV modules in Germany, the EPBT is about 0.7 to 2 years. The first link provide the general equation for calculating EPBT - http://www.clca.columbia.edu/236_PE_Magazine_Fthenakis_2_10_12.pdf

The following link presents information about the EPBT of solar panels in Germany - https://www.ise.fraunhofer.de/de/downloads/pdf-files/aktuelles/photovoltaics-report-in-englischer-sprache.pdf   [p. 33]

The information on various technical and financial attributes pertaining to different types of Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) technology is made available by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) through its annual reports. According to the IRENA 2012 report on “Concentrating Solar Power”, the technology wise key features of the four existing technologies are as follows:

Technology Typical Capacity (MW)

 Operating Temp (degree C)

Range of solar to electricity conversion efficiency (%)
Parabolic Trough  10 – 300 350 – 550 11 - 16
Solar Tower 10 – 200 250 – 565 7 – 20
Linear Fresnel 10 – 200 390 13 
Dish Sterling  0.01 – 0.025 550 – 750  12 – 25

 The complete report can be accessed at https://www.irena.org/documentdownloads/publications/re_technologies_cost_analysis-csp.pdf

The following links are recommended to be checked for more up to date information on CSP technologies:
http://www.irena.org/solar
http://www.solarpaces.org/

 The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) report on the “U.S. Solar Photovoltaic System Cost Benchmarks” provides the overall cost of a PV system - cost of module, inverter, hardware, soft costs (labour, overheads etc.) along with the Levelized Cost of Electricity (LCOE) for three sectors i.e. Residential, Commercial and Utility Scale solar PV installations. The report includes the trends observed in the cost of each component as well as the LCOE from 2010 through 2017 in different regions of the United States. This can be accessed at https://www.nrel.gov/docs/fy17osti/68925.pdf.

The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), national trade association of the U.S. solar energy industry, also provides up to date information related to solar potential, project details and market trends. This can be accessed here https://www.seia.org/resources.

To obtain information from a global perspective, the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) report on “Renewable Power Generation Costs in 2017” provides information on the trends in cost of solar technologies in different countries and regions around the globe (Chapter 3 Pg. 59 on Solar PVs and Chapter 4 Pg. 77 on Concentrating Solar Power). This can be accessed at http://www.irena.org/solar.