The difference between accuracy and precision when measuring solar radiation

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Accuracy and precision are often considered synonyms. Today, with the development of high tech equipment and measuring devices, metrology has differentiated the two.

  • Accuracy: indicates how a given measurement is close to the real value.
  • Precision: refers to the closeness between independent measurements.

To understand the difference between accuracy and precision consider the targets in the above image. Imagine a target with many arrows stuck in the same area near the center (top right target). The accurate measurements are represented by the arrows stuck near the center in a scattered way (see the concept of measurement “dispersion”).

The accurate and precise measurements are represented by the arrows stuck close together in the middle of the target (top left target).

Now we are going to highlight the importance of accuracy and precision of solar radiation sensors.

The accuracy and precision in solar radiation measuring devices

Physicists and those involved in solar energy business know that the Sun irradiates the Earth’s surface with a broad spectrum of rays, from ultraviolet to far infrared.

The pyranometer is the instrument that measures with the highest accuracy the amount of energy penetrated within Earth’s atmosphere. It can measure from 250nm to 2400nm (some go up to 2800nm). When the pyranometer has a good quality, we have also a precise tool.

That is however a relative concept.

In fact meteorology looks for the energy generated from the entire solar spectrum and received at a given place of the earth’s surface, while silicon photovoltaic cells don’t need the broad spectrum. Photovoltaic cells are able to convert only part of the solar spectrum into electric energy: this part goes from 330nm to 1100nm.

Convertible sun spectrum area

In figure 2 you can see the spectrum area convertible into electrical energy. As you can note from the spectral energy analysis diagrams, the efficiency of the photovoltaic conversion varies as a function of the spectrum wavelengths read by the solar cell.

Silicon cell convertible spectrum

Figure 3 represents the only portion of the spectrum convertible into electricity by a silicon cell.

Pyranometer measurement

Figure 4 shows how the pyranometer measures the entire solar spectrum; this is obviously not an accurate value of the amount of solar energy effectively convertible into electrical energy.

Trial measurements ( at Lat.45 -46 ° N) made with a “secondary standard” pyranometer and silicon cell solarimeters have demonstrated that the solar spectrum actually read is effectively narrower compared to the one represented in the figure above. In fact, except for sunrise and sunset, the values given by the two instruments didn’t differ much.

From our frequent observations we can nonetheless affirm that the solarimeter is the most accurate instrument for measuring the amount of solar energy convertible into photovoltaic energy.

The solarimeter is the reference tool for measuring the amount of energy that can be produced by a photovoltaic system.

Making a parallel with the concept of benchmark existing in the financial world, we can say that a solarimeter is the proper benchmark for the investment fund called photovoltaic system.


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