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Back to Basics: how to perform a simple, comprehensive and reliable
technical performance analysis of PV plants projects
Bernard Chabot,
Renewable Energy Expert and Trainer, BCCONSULT,
Grid connected solar photovoltaic (PV) technology is now a well-known solution to deliver large amount of decentralized
or utility scale electricity. But communication on the relevant projects description and technical performance is often too
limited, even in the professional literature and in the related public resources. So, there is still the need to go back to
basics to explain what should be the sound information to deliver to the PV community, to policy and decision makers
and even to the general public. This document is proposed to participate to this goal, with a simple methodology
approach, some general illustration and specific case studies. It is based on existing best practice and standards and it
will be a base to go further for an economic performance analysis of PV plants projects.
Figure 1 shows the simplified design and the main parameters of a grid-connected PV system without storage capabilities
and without auxiliary electricity production. Such systems can be of various scales, from a few kilowatts for domestic PV
roofs to hundreds of megawatts for utility scale PV plants, and they will be simply called in this document PV Plants. The
main function of those PV plants is to deliver to the grid Ey kWh/year of alternative current transformed by an inverter (or
a set of inverters) from the direct current delivered by a PV array made of Nm identical modules, each receiving the same
average annual global solar irradiation (sum of direct, diffuse and reflected ones) Hy (in kWh/m2.year) in their plane.

Figure 1: Main PV modules and power plants design, parameters and relationships.
Annual in plane total solar irradiation
Hy (kWh/m2.year in the plane of modules)
(Total = direct + diffuse + reflected)
PV array Inverter Grid
Nm modules dc
Pref (kW)
= Nm * Pmstc ac Ey (kWh/year)
Ey = PR * Hy * Pref / Go
Ey = (Rg/Rstc)*Hy*Nm*Pmstc/Go
System annual conversion efficiency:
Rg = Ey / (Nm*Sm*Hy) ==> Sm = Ey/(Rg*Nm*Hy)
Module conversion efficiency at STC:
1 module Total area: Rstc = Pmstc/(Go*Sm) ==> Sm = Pmstc/(Rstc*Go)
Sm (m2)
L = l*L
Standard test Conditions (STC):
Rated power Go = 1 kW/m2
at STC: Tj = 25 C
Pmstc (kW) Air Mass: 1.5
l Bernard Chabot - BCCONSULT - 2/2014

The model of the modules will be defined by its overall dimensions (length L and width l, including the frame) defining its
total area Sm (in m2) and by its maximum power Pmstc (in kW) at Standard Test Conditions (STC: solar irradiance
Go = 1 kW/m2, temperature of the p-n junction in the cells Tj = 25 C and spectral distribution of light corresponding to an
Air Mass AM1.5).
As indicated in figure 1, under a test at STC, by definition the model of identical modules will deliver its reference maximum
power or peak power Pmstc, and as he receives on his overall surface the irradiance level Go, we can define the module
conversion efficiency at STC as:
Rmstc = Pmstc / (Go*Sm) {1}
Of course, if we consider all the complete set of Nm modules in the power plant, its related conversion efficiency at STC will
be exactly the same value Rmstc.
Under actual site conditions, as also indicated in figure 1, we can define the mean annual PV plant conversion efficiency Rg
as the ratio between the annual energy delivered by the inverter in alternative current Ey (in kWhac/year) and the total
solar irradiation on the total area of the modules (including their frames, but not in the area between the modules):
Rg = Ey / (Nm*Sm*Hy) {2}
There is the same module area Sm in {1} = and {2}, so we can express the annual energy delivered to the grid Ey as:
Ey (kWh/year) = (Rg/Rstc) * Hy * Nm*Pmstc /Go = PR * Hy * Pref {3}, where:
Go = 1 kW/m2
Pref = Nm * Pmstc is the reference rated power of the PV plant, the sum of all modules maximum power at STC.
Hy is in kWh/m2.year and is the mean annual total solar irradiation in the plane of the modules on the site of the
power plant.
PR = Rg / Rmstc {4} is the annual Performance Ratio of the PV plant.
As the performance ratio PR is the ratio between two efficiencies without dimensions (but often expressed in %), it is
without dimension. As such, and in order not to confound it with a simple efficiency parameter, it should never be
expressed in %, but only in plain numerical value.
As the same module model is used at STC and on the site, this explains that whatever is the model module efficiency value
at STC, the performance ratio range of values is very narrow, from around 0.7 to 0.85 for present state of the art PV power
plants without electricity storage.
It is easy to demonstrate that the PR value is independent from the definition of the reference module area, e.g. either the
total module area can be used as chosen here, or front glass area or active cells area, provided of course that the same
area definition is used to calculate the annual total solar irradiation Esun (in kWh/year) in the plane of the PV array. In our
case, the total module area in the PV array will be St (m2) = Nm*Sm, and so: Esun (kWh/year) = St*Hy {5}.
As all modules manufacturers give the overall dimensions L and l (m) of their rectangular modules but not often the front
glass area or the active cells area, we will use the easily available and easy to verify total area Sm of the modules for the
calculation of the annual performance indicators of PV power plants.
There are four annual PV power plant performance indicators shown in yellow in figure 2:
The Performance Ratio PR defined as before as the ratio between the module efficiency at STC Rmstc and the
mean global annual PV plant efficiency under actual on site conditions Rg.
The annual energy yield Nh = Ey / Pref, in kWh/kW.year, or in equivalent annual hours at rated power Pref, also
expressed as full-load equivalent hours per year. From this definition and from {3} above, it is simple to see that
for a PV plant: Nh = (PR*Hy) / Go {6}, where Go = 1 kW/m2.

The average annual Capacity Factor CF = Ey / (Pref*8760) = Nh / 8760, without dimension but often expressed
in %. 8760 is the number of hours in a standard year of 365 days.

The annual mean global PV plant conversion efficiency Rg = Ey / Esun = Ey / (Nm*Sm*Hy)

Figure 2: Parameters used for the definition and the calculation of the four PV plants performance indicators
Those four performance indicators are not independent, and if you know one of them, you can get the tree other for
free, so it would be strange to limit a PV plant performance analysis to the use of only one of them. In fact each of the four
indicators gives specific information:
Nh is used commonly for all types of power plants. For conventional power plants and dispatchable renewables
(biomass, biogas, geothermal power, hydropower with reservoirs), its shows if they are used as base load or
intermediate load or peak load. For non dispatchable renewables (run of river hydropower, wind power, solar
power without storage) Nh values give a global information on the quality of the site (mainly the solar irradiation
parameter Hy for PV projects), the quality of the design and the quality of the operation of the power plants.
Capacity factor CF being linked directly to Nh values give the same kind of information, expressed in different units.
Mean global annual PV power plant conversion efficiency Rg gives the same strategic information that all kinds of
energy conversion efficiencies: how much of the energy input (either from a fossil fuel or from uranium or from
different renewable resources) is transformed in useful energy. Of course, in the case of solar (and wind, hydro and
geothermal power), the resource is free and so this parameter is less sensible than in the case of conventional or
bioenergy-based primary energy resources that must be purchased. But the PV plant conversion efficiency gives
strategic information in many cases:
o If the area to install the PV array is limited: high modules and PV plant efficiencies will allow delivering a
maximum of kW and kWh/year from this limited area either on roofs or on ground.
4 indicators Other
Nh: 1 600 PR: 0,800 Rg: 13,0%
= Rg / Rmstc
Pref: 1 000 kWdc Capacity factor CF: 18,3%
= Nm*Pm
0,300 kW/module N modules: 3 334
Pm Rmstc: 16,3%
at STC: Tj = 25C, Go = 1 kW, AM 1.5 St (m2): 6 137
Lenght: L (m): 1,956 Sm (m2): 1,841
Width: l (m): 0,941
Bernard Chabot - BCCONSULT - 2/2014 Bernard Chabot - BCCONSULT - 2/2014
2 000
12 273 094 Hy
Esun (kWh/year) kWh/m2.year
i n pl ane of modul es Total irradiation in
including frame = Hy * St the plane of modules
Gl obal effi ci ency
= Ey/Pref = Ey/Esun

= Nh/8760
6 input data 1 600 000
Ful l l oad equi val ent/year Performance Rati o
Multicrystalline Si cells

o If cabling, mounting and installation costs are a sensible relative part of the total installed cost of the PV
plant, as those costs are related to the array area and so to the modules and PV plant efficiencies. And this
is more and more the case, as the relative part of the modules and inverters costs in the total PV plant
investment cost is decreasing.
o If the operation costs related to the array area are relatively important, such in the specific cases of PV
plants on sites requiring relatively frequent modules cleaning due to local air pollution or to sand storms
and dust.
The PV plant Performance ratio PR is very specific to the PV technology, and for that it deserve to be always
calculated and communicated: its shows how much the initial module efficiency at STC Rmstc is degraded by
successive losses towards the final global PV plant efficiency value Rg: at the modules level due to their actual
operating temperature higher than 25C, to the modules mismatches and to the modules soiling; at the cabling
level due to cables and diodes losses; at the inverter and grid interface levels due to their dc/ac and voltage
conversion efficiencies; and last but not least, at the operation and maintenance level if all potential losses of
production are not reduced by adequate policies and measures for continuous performance monitoring and the
relevant corrective, predictive, and preventive O&M decisions and expenses.
As all performance parameters can be defined from one of them and from the other parameters of the PV plant, the choice
of a first reference performance indicator is open and not mandatory. But as shown in figure 3, the choice of Nh (which is
defined only by the two universal basic data of any power plant: delivered energy Ey in kWh/year and rated power Pref
in KW) as the central performance indicator gives an easy access to the three others and this could be considered as a
rational and practical choice.

Figure 3: relationships between Nh and the three other PV plants performance parameters
To summarize this approach of PV plants parameters and performance indicators, table 1 describes the three STC
parameters (not related to a specific PV plant project), the three modules data L, l and Pmstc and the three PV plant data
Nm, Ey and Hy which are required for a comprehensive PV plant project analysis based on the four performance indicators
Nh, CF, PR and Rg which can be calculated from those 6 basic data (which can be reduced to five if the modules length L
and width l are replaced directly by the total module area Sm). Four additional parameters can be calculated to completely
describe the PV module and the PV plant: Sm, Rmstc, St and Pref.

Rg = PR * Rmstc
Nh = Ey / Pref
Annual Average Capacity Factor
CF = Nh / 8760
Annual equivalent full load hours
PR = Nh*Go/Hy
Rg = (Nh*Go/Hy)*Rmstc
kWh/(kW.year) = hours/year
Performance Ratio Global conversion efficiency

Table 1: The 3 STC and the 14 projects parameters of which 6 basic data (in green) and 4 performance indicators (in yellow)
Of course, complementary parameters and information can be provided. Table 2 gives a non-limitative example of such
additional parameters and information relative to the PV plant in figure 2. But those additional parameters should not
replace the basic information given by the 6 parameters in green on the left of table 2 (N1, 2, 5, 6, 9, 12). In particular, any
data on the number of households or inhabitants corresponding to the annual energy delivered by the PV plant should
never be given in place of the very simple number of kWh (or GWh) per year of the Ey parameter.

Table 2: example of basic and additional data and information to describe a PV plant project and its performance
From the relationships above and in figure 3 and table 1, figure 4 shows the Nh values resulting from a range of in-plane of
modules annual total solar irradiation Hy (the values beyond 2200 kWh/m2 can result from the use of one axis or two axis
trackers in many sunbelt countries or regions) and for performance ratios PR ranging from 0.65 (in very hot climate
conditions and non-optimum PV plant design and operation) and up to 0.85 (in moderate or cold climate and with optimal
PV plant design, monitoring and operation and maintenance). For example at Hy = 2000 kWh/m2.year and a performance
ratio of 0.75, Nh value is 1500 kWh/kW.year or 1500 equivalent full load hours per year.
Context N Parameter Unit Name / definition Relationships / value / Info
I Go kW Irradiance at STC (Standard Test Conditions) Go = 1 kW/m2
General II Tjstc C Temperature of cells junctions at STC Tjstc = 25C
III AM1.5 STC Air-mass 1.5 spectral repartition Defined by a standard
1 l m Width of the module including frame
2 L m Lenght of the module including frame
Module 3 Sm m2 Total area of a module (including its frame) Smt = L*l
4 Pmstc kW Module rated power at standard test conditions (STC)
5 Rmstc Module conversion efficiency at STC Rmstc = Pmstc / (Go*Sm)
6 Nm Total number of modules
Site 7 St m2 Total modules area (including frames) St = Nm*Smt
and 8 Pref kW Reference rated power of the PV plant Pref = Nm*Pmstc
power 9 Ey kWhac/year Annual equivalent constant electricity delivered to the grid
plant 10 Nh kWhac/kW.year PV power plant equivalent annual full-load hours Nh = Ey/Pref = PR*Hy/Go
11 CF PV power plant annual average capacity factor CF = Nh/8760
12 Hy kWh/m2.year Total solar irradiation in the plane of modules Sum of direct, diffuse, reflected
13 PR PV power plant Performance Ratio PR = Rmstc/Rgt = Go*Nh/Hy
14 Rg Annual global PV plant conversion efficiency Rg = PR*Rmstc
N Parameter Unit
1 l m 0,941 Module manufacturer Module model
2 L m 1,956
3 Sm m2 1,841 NOCT (C) 45
4 Pmstc kW 0,300 Su (m2/kW) 6,14
5 Rmstc Dimensionless 0,163 16,3% Ps (kW/m2) 0,163
6 Nm 3 334 Total area used (m2) 16 000
7 St m2 6 137 kWdc/m2 used 0,063
8 Pref kW 1 000 Ha/MW of used area 1,60
9 Ey kWhac/year 1 600 000 Eys (kWh/m2.year) 260,7
10 Nh kWhac/kW.year 1 600 Mean kWh/year.home 6 000
11 CF Dimensionless 0,183 18,3% Nequiv. homes 267
12 Hy kWh/m2.year 2 000 Total Esun (kWh/y) 12 273 094
13 PR Dimensionless 0,800 Avoided kgCO2/kWh 0,400
14 Rg Dimensionless 0,130 13,0% tCO2 avoided/year 640
Case study Additional parameters
Multicrystalline silicon PV cells

Figure 4: Nh values from a range of in-plane of PV modules solar irradiation Hy and performance ratio PR values
Figure 5 shows the global power plant conversion efficiency Rg resulting from different modules conversion efficiencies at
STC Rmstc and the same range of performance ratio PR from 0.65 to 0.85.

Figure 5: Global PV plant efficiency resulting from the modules efficiency at STC and different performance ratio values

For example, an optimized PV plant (PR = 0.8) with very high monocrystalline silicon efficiency modules (Rmstc = 20 %) will
have a global conversion efficiency Rg = 16 %. In comparison, a PV plant with a performance ratio of only PR = 0.7 and using
10 % efficiency modules at STC will have a global annual conversion efficiency of only Rg = 7 %.
Figure 2 and table 2 above describe an intermediate case: the PV plant of Pref = 1 MWdc uses high efficiency
multicrystalline silicon modules (Rmstc = 16.3 %) and delivers Ey = 1.6 GWh/year, so its Nh value is Nh = Ey/Pref = 1600
kWh/kW.year, and its annual capacity factor is CF = Nh/8760 = 0.183 = 18.3 %. As the total in-plane of modules annual solar
irradiation Hy is 2000 kWh/m2.year, the global annual conversion efficiency is Rg = 13 %, and so the performance ratio is
PR = Rg/Rmstc = 13/16.3 = 0.8.
In the above approach and case studies, emphasis is put on annual PV plant performance, which is sufficient in many cases.
For PV plant developers and owners and for information of PV and energy specialists, beyond this annual performance
analysis, it is of course possible and recommended to make also a monthly performance analysis, in particular in case of
large seasonal changes in solar irradiation and environmental parameters such as ambient air temperature. In this case Nh
values can be expressed in monthly average daily full-load hours per day Nhd = (kWh delivered per month to the grid
Em)/(Pref*Ndays in the month) and the mean monthly capacity factor will be CFm = Nhd/24. Each monthly PV plant
conversion efficiency Rgm will be the ratio between Em and the monthly total solar irradiation in the plane of modules
Esunm = Hm*Nm*Sm where Hm is measured in kWh/m2.month in the plane of modules. And each monthly performance
ratio PRm will be the ratio between relevant Rgm value and the module conversion efficiency at STC: PRm = Rgm/Rmstc.
For technical and scientific studies and communication, it is also recommended to follow the guidelines of the IEC 61724
standard Photovoltaic system performance monitoring Guidelines for measurement, data exchange and analysis.
Beyond this technical performance analysis, it will be also interesting to make an economic performance analysis of PV
plant projects. A forthcoming document will show that only four additional projects parameters will be required to
evaluate the manufacturing cost of delivered kWh and to assess the global projects economic profitability parameters
resulting from a specific value of the selling price of PV electricity.
Such technical and economic performance analysis can participate to sound information of PV plant projects stakeholders
and more generally to the information of policy and decision makers. And with a specific communication approach, they
can also contribute to a basic but correct information of the general public and of citizens: the PV and the other renewables
technologies and applications deserve to win hearts and minds to facilitate their large scale market development and
their strategic contribution to a true sustainable energy future.