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 provided by Coral Keller)

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 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.

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.

This report presents and examines the evolution over time of the different costs involved in the installation of renewable power generation facilities across the world. Chapters 5 and 6 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.  [Chapter 5 & 6]


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.

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.

This report is released by National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). Land-use is a common topic for solar power generation. To provide general understanding, this report 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.  [pp. 6, 18, 22, 23, 26, 27]

This annual report published by IRENA contains information for a reference year (in this case 2015) about employment status related to renewables industry by technology (i.e. solar, wind, geothermal, biogas and hydropower) and by selected countries as well. In 2016 edition, the selected countries were: China, Germany, France, US, India, Brazil, Japan, Bangladesh, and South Africa.

Particularly for solar energy, the report provides plots and data for number of jobs (globally and regionally). It also provides year-to-year rates of change and geographical trends. It outlines the main drivers guiding the solar industry behavior in different places of the world.

This report presents key trends in the U.S. Solar Industry for the second quarter of 2015 and is compiled by the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA). The SEIA, established in 1984, is the national trade association of the U.S. solar energy industry. This report has the most up-to-date facts and figures for the U.S market. It covers important trends like PV installations (residential and non-residential), pricing and even expected trends for the future. It also discusses some of these figures by state as well. Most figures are presented in the form of bar graphs for easy comparison with statistics from previous years. The report makes predictions for up until 2020 as well. A more detailed full report (paid) is also available.

The International Energy Agency (IEA), founded in November 1974, is an autonomous body appointed by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) to carry out a comprehensive program of energy collaboration among its member countries, which includes the European Union, USA and some Asian countries as well. The IEA Photovoltaic Power Systems Program (PVPS) is one of the collaborative R&D Agreements established within the IEA, and since its establishment in 1993, the PVPS participants have been conducting a variety of joint projects in the application of photovoltaic conversion of solar energy into electricity. This report outlines the national plan for the Solar PV industry for all member countries. It covers aspects such as policy, R&D, industry progress and market development. While most of the report is descriptive, tables and statistics are provided for certain countries as well. The report covers the solar industry by country, alphabetically, starting from page 38. The initial part of the report covers the methodology by which the IEA PVPS has been obtaining its information.]

The Factbook series are provided by the SBC (Schlumberger Business Consulting) Energy Institute and present the information in the form of separate presentations for Solar PV and Concentrated Solar Power. The SBC Energy Institute is a non-profit organization under SBC and participates in energy-related scientific and technological research. The presentations are from 2013 and covers general topics on a global scale that include key concepts, future development, R&D, costs, and environmental impact. Information on the technology and efficiencies associated with it can be found on slides 12-15 for solar PV and slides 14-16 for CSP. The estimation LCOE for solar PV can be found on slides 49 and 50, and the LCOE for CSP can be found on slide 46. 

Solar PV -


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.

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:  [pp. 24 – 27]

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.

The following link presents information about the EPBT of solar panels in Germany.   [p. 33]

This information is available in the report prepared by SBC Energy Institute on CSP technology. The report can be accessed through the link below.  [Slides 14-16]

You can find statistics for this question in the link given below. The study was conducted by the US department of energy: