Survey of Energy Resources 2007
Solar Radiation Resources
The amount of solar radiant energy incident on a surface per unit area and per unit time is called irradiance or insolation. The average extraterrestrial irradiance or flux density at a mean earth-sun distance and normal to the solar beam is known as the solar constant, which is 1 367 W/m2 according to the most recent estimate. (Fig. 10-2 )
The energy delivered by the sun is both intermittent and changes during the day and with the seasons. When this power density is averaged over the surface of the earth's sphere, it is reduced by a factor of 4. A further reduction by a factor of 2 is due to losses in passing through the earth's atmosphere. Thus, the annual average horizontal surface irradiance is approximately 170 W/m2. When 170 W/m2 is integrated over 1 year, the resulting 5.4 GJ that is incident on 1 m2 at ground level is approximately the energy that can be extracted from one barrel of oil, 200 kg of coal, or 140 m3 of natural gas.
However, the flux changes from place to place. Some parts of the earth receive much higher than this annual average. The highest annual mean irradiance of 300 W/m2 can be found in the Red Sea area, and typical values are about 200 W/m2 in Australia, 185 W/m2 in the United States and 105 W/m2 in the United Kingdom. These data show that the annual solar resource is almost uniform (within a factor of about 2), throughout almost all regions of the world. It has already been shown that economically attractive applications of solar energy are not limited to just the sunniest regions. Northern European countries offer good examples of this.
In a period of rapidly growing deployment of solar energy systems, it is imperative that solar resource parameters and their space/time specificity be well known to solar energy professionals, planners, decision makers, engineers and designers. Because these parameters depend on the applications (flat solar thermal collectors, solar thermal power plants, photovoltaic, window glass, etc.), they may differ widely, and might be unavailable for many locations, given that irradiance measurement networks or meteorological stations do not provide sufficient geographically time/site-specific irradiance coverage. This coverage is especially useful because it allows assessment of the output of a solar system in relation to the technical characteristics of the system, local geography and energy demand. It therefore allows a better assessment of the feasibility of a solar energy application and of its value.
Measured solar radiation data are available at a number of locations throughout the world. Data for many other locations have been estimated, based on measurements at similar climatic locations. The data can be accessed through internet web sites of national government agencies for most countries in the world. Worldwide solar radiation data are also available from the World Radiation Data Center (WRDC) in St. Petersburg, Russia. WRDC, operating under the auspices of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) has been archiving data from over 500 stations and operates a web site in collaboration with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) (http://wrdc-mgo.nrel.gov). Other sources of data are given in the references at the end of this commentary. Most recently, methods are being developed to convert measurements made by satellites to solar radiation values on the ground. Once these methods are developed and validated, they will be able to provide solar radiation data for any location in the world.