Aerosol optical depth (AOD) is a primary source of solar irradiance forecast error in clear-sky conditions. Improving the accuracy of AOD in NWP models like WRF will thus reduce error in both direct normal irradiance (DNI) and global horizontal irradiance (GHI), which should improve solar power forecast errors, at least in cloud-free conditions. In this study clear-sky GHI and DNI was analyzed from four configurations of the WRF-Solar model with different aerosol representations: 1) the default Tegen climatology, 2) imposing AOD forecasts from the GEOS-5 model, 3) imposing AOD forecasts from the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS) model, and 4) the Thompson–Eidhammer aerosol-aware water/ice-friendly aerosol climatology. More than 8 months of these 15-min output forecasts are compared with high-quality irradiance observations at NOAA SURFRAD and Solar Radiation (SOLRAD) stations located across CONUS. In general, WRF-Solar with GEOS-5 AOD had the lowest errors in clear-sky DNI, while WRF-Solar with CAMS AOD had the highest errors, higher even than the two aerosol climatologies, which is consistent with validation of the four AOD550 datasets against AERONET stations. For clear-sky GHI, the statistics differed little between the four models, as expected because of the lesser sensitivity of GHI to aerosol loading. Hourly average clear-sky DNI and GHI were also analyzed, and they were additionally compared with CAMS model output directly. CAMS irradiance performed competitively with the best WRF-Solar configuration (with GEOS-5 AOD). The markedly different performance of CAMS versus WRF-Solar with CAMS AOD indicates that CAMS is apparently less sensitive to AOD550 than WRF-Solar is.
Particles in the atmosphere called aerosols, which can include dust, smoke, sea salt, sulfates, black carbon, and organic carbon, absorb and scatter incoming sunlight. Improving the representation of aerosols in numerical weather prediction models reduces forecast errors in solar irradiance at ground level, particularly direct normal irradiance, during cloud-free conditions. This in turn should result in improved accuracy of solar power forecasts, especially for concentrated solar power (CSP) plants. CSP plants tend to be built in more arid, less cloudy regions that are also prone to dust loading, so accurate aerosol forecasts are particularly relevant. Comparing four representations of aerosols in the WRF-Solar model over eight months of forecasts across the United States reveals substantial differences in clear-sky irradiance forecast skill.
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