Top 7 Software for Designing Solar Energy Systems
This article was collected by Indranil Bhattacharya who tested each program by running basic simulation exercises. It is not claimed to be an expert user or developer of any of this Solar software. His views are purely subjective and aim to give the reader a quick look at these great programs, each with unique features to offer and different ways to tackle the same problem.
A newly published publication from the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) and the Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) has published a list of 7 PV simulation programs commonly used to design solar PV systems worldwide. The programs included are as follows (in alphabetical order):
- Homer Pro – Homer Energy, USA
- PV F-Chart – F-Chart, USA
- PVPlanner – SolarGis, Slovakia
- PVsyst – Pvsyst SA, Switzerland
- RETscreen – Natural Resources Canada, Canada
- System Advisor Form (SAM) – National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), USA
- Solar Pro – Laplace Systems, Japan
Comparisons have been made between these programs to ensure how well each of them is in the design and simulation of solar PV systems. The analysis was done focusing on SPV energy only, so programs that simulate other renewable energy sources such as wind, biomass, etc. may not necessarily gain more preference. Based on the author’s individual attempt to use these programs according to the project’s ongoing parameters, evaluations are provided at the end of the article. The following criteria were considered:
- Jobs and USP
- User interface
- Historical weather data
- Module and Reflector information
It was developed by the NREL (National National Renewable Energy Laboratory) in the United States of America and later strengthened and distributed by Homer Energy which is a small network improvement program. HOMER stands for Mixed Energy Source Optimization Model and comes with simulation, optimization, and sensitivity tools.
Calculation of CAPEX and OPEX is possible using the project wizard. Multiple energy source simulation. Add multiple quantities. Factors such as wind speed, fuel cost, and emission penalties can be included in the calculation. The search site by name is possible.
is not specifically designed. Do not generate IV curve data or do shading analysis. Also, the PV report is less comprehensive and detailed due to limited information on weather and unit data. Many loss factors during PV power generation are not added to the calculation.
A useful schematic view. The graphical menu system is a plus. Not intuitive and many parameters to add it manually.
TMY2 / TMY3 data can be imported from NREL. Also, NASA and SolarGIS data can be imported from its websites. It does not come bundled with free weather data.
The data unit can be imported. Only 8 units (including one year) and 8 (including one year) inverters are included in the program.
Cloud license available. The fully loaded permanent copy is available in the mall for $ 4,200 / Rs. 280,000 Rs. 2,100 / Rs and student $ 350 per year / Rs. 23407 per year.
PV F-Chart, developed by the faculties of the University of Wisconsin, is a PV system analysis design program that uses solar radiation data to calculate PV generation without taking into account differences caused by PV modules, reflectors, and other variables. This program is intended for academic purposes.
A simple program that calculates the PV output on a general and inverter basis. All data is added manually and thus it is difficult to quickly compare generation data by switching unit data or site or site capacity. No vignetting analysis. Not suitable for calculating PV energy in real-world conditions. A simple graph or tabular data can be created but cannot be exported.
Very basic and useful to calculate when manually entering data for each parameter. It is a set of macro-enabled spreadsheets. Automation is not very limited and no processors are available.
300 sites are included in the program. There is no option to import weather data from popular sources like TMY3. Data can only be added manually.
There is no way to add module or inverter data to the account.
Student $ 400 / Rs. 2,650. $ 600 / 40,000 Indian rupees
This program comes from the SolarGis database resource provider. It is a cloud-based program running on the SaaS platform (the program as a service) and claims that its data is very accurate and provides an accurate approach to systematically validating data reliability.
Accurate satellite data allows the user to estimate the solar radiation and PV potential of a site and to generate a report in 14 languages. It automatically calculates terrain shading but there are no options for setting surrounding structures or doing near shading analysis. It is only available as an online version, so internet connection is mandatory. It allows companies to use the API and access SolarGis through third-party applications.
Simulation-based on an easy setup in three steps. IMaps high resolution interactive solar resource maps allow users to accurately locate the site. The interface is elegant and intuitive, but the interface performance may be affected by internet connection speeds that are a defect in the online software.
Developed by the Swiss physicist André Mermoud and the electrical engineer Michel Villoz, this program is a standard for the design of PV simulation and the simulation system worldwide. The developers claim that this program is designed for use by architects, engineers, researchers, and students.
A quick estimate of production at the project planning stage, detailed study, sizing, hourly estimation, and reports is a key feature. A practical design tool for the design and classification of PV systems. It simulates most of the parameters required by PV system designers and helps create a full simulation report.
It allows a high level of control over various factors. Where this program lags behind is its ability to manage shadow analysis. The Perspective tool hangs when used repeatedly and feels the instability of the shading simulation and provides no visual indication of the shading. The program screen cannot be enlarged and therefore can be tedious to see all the parameters if you are using a small screen.
The latest Meteonorm data file packages. It can also contain around 15 different data sources covering most regions of the world. User-defined data can also be imported.
An aggregated database of a photonic publication that lists thousands of modules and models of inverters. User-defined data can also be entered.
The limited-edition allows up to 30 kW of installations and ships for 1040 USD Unlimited edition shipped for $ 1 351
Developed by National Resources Canada, this is an Excel-based clean energy project programming tool that helps decision-makers quickly and cheaply determine the financial and financial speed of potential renewable energies, their efficiency energy, and cogeneration projects.
A free program consisting of a spreadsheet that activated the macro with all available formulas to calculate different types of energy sources, including solar PV and allows the user to calculate the generation of PV according to location and perform a cost analysis and determine the feasibility of the project. Good for students and a useful tool for those who may want to consider investing in and reverting to a photovoltaic solar project at an early stage. It has no shading analysis or reporting function.
Slightly easy to use as it is a regular Excel spreadsheet that most users are familiar with and macros are enabled with options to choose from the drop-down menus. There is not much room to adjust these values and percentages.
It comes with historical weather data from the NASA database covering all major cities in the world. There is no way to add other data sources or custom data.
It is delivered with a limited number of modules but no inverters. There is no room to add custom data or inverters.
No charges. Available for download from Canada’s National Resources website.
SAM Consultant Form
The free program, developed by the United States Department of Energy (DoE) and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), is a performance and money model designed to aid decision-making (subject to data and US energy policies) in the planning phase of the project.
SAM forecasts performance and estimated energy costs for grid power projects based on installation and commissioning costs and user-defined system design parameters. It has preset for different types of financial models used in the United States and the user can choose the appropriate option and provide inputs to run the simulation and generate reports on generation, loss, and financial data. It does not provide shading analysis, but it can import this data from PVsyst.
This requires a lot of manual data entry, and if you’re someone with no experience in designing photoelectric systems, you can find it often.
It downloads data from the US National Solar Radiation Database which covers many cities around the world. TMY2, TMY3, and EPW data can be imported.
A large database of California Electricity Regulatory Authority (CEC) units and inverters included with the software or can be downloaded for free.