UO Solar Radiation Monitoring Laboratory

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History of the UO Solar Radiation Monitoring Laboratory


Since 1977, the University of Oregon Solar Radiation Monitoring Laboratory (UO SRML) has operated a solar radiation monitoring network in the Pacific Northwest. The number of stations participating in the network has fluctuated over the years depending on the level of funding.
In 1994, a consortium of utilities headed by the Eugene Water and Electric Board (EWEB) initiated the Regional Solar Radiation Monitoring Project (RSRMP) which revitalized the region's solar monitoring efforts. Current members of the consortium are EWEB, Bonneville Power Administration (BPA), the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), the Northwest Power Planning Council, and Portland General Electric.

In 2000, seed funding from Bonneville Power Administration allowed the UO SRML to upgrade and expand the solar monitoring network, provide education and training on solar resource assessment, and to become a regional solar radiation data center.

Background and early history

In 1977, a five-station global network was established under the auspices of the Pacific Northwest Regional Commission. Formation of the network was motivated both by the lack of available solar radiation data around the region and by the large inaccuracies commonly found in older data, due to instrumental deficiencies and poor calibration procedures. These five stations were equipped with Schenk pyranometers and integrating chart recorders to facilitate hand analysis of the data. In preparation for the network, global monitoring was initiated at the Eugene station in 1975. EWEB has been a key backer of the solar monitoring effort from the beginning.

Supplemental assistance for the UO solar radiation monitoring effort was provided from 1977 to 1981 through a contract with the United Stated Department of Energy, as part of the Solar Energy Meteorological Research and Training Site Program (in collaboration with Oregon State University).

At about the same time, in 1978, Bonneville funded the UO Solar Monitoring Laboratory to initiate a program of high quality solar radiation data acquisition in the Pacific Northwest. Both global and direct beam radiation were to be monitored on a continuing basis so that short-term fluctuations could be studied. The primary motivation was to provide the requisite resource data base for future development of solar electricity in the region. Initially, high quality monitoring stations were set up at three locations:
1. Whitehorse Ranch in southeastern Oregon, which provides coverage of southern Harney and Malheur County east of the Steens Mountains,
2. Burns, which provides coverage of northern Harney and northeastern Lake County areas southwest of Burns, and
3. Hermiston, which provides coverage for northern Morrow County.

Eppley Normal Incident Pyrheliometers mounted on trackers and Eppley Precision Spectral Pyranometers were installed at the stations. At the same time, the Eugene station was upgraded to include beam radiation monitoring and an automatic data acquisition system.

During 1980, a fourth Bonneville high quality station was established at Kimberly, Idaho. Another station at Vancouver, Washington was started in October of the same year. The Vancouver station was moved to Portland in 1983. In October 1985, the contract with Bonneville was completed and the stations at Portland and Whitehorse Ranch, Oregon and Kimberly, Idaho were decommissioned.

From September 1982 to August 1986 a global and beam instrumented station was operated at Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, under the auspices of Washington Water Power (now Avista).

From April 1984 through August 1988, solar radiation data was obtained for a station at Hood River, Oregon under contract with Pacific Power (now part of PacifiCorp). These solar radiation data were used to calculate the energy savings for the Hood River conservation project.

From 1988 to 1994, Burns, Eugene, and—during much of the period—Hermiston were kept operating with funds from EWEB and some supplies from NREL.

Re-establishment of a regional network

In July 1994, a consortium of regional utilities—Bonneville, EWEB, Idaho Power, PacifiCorp, and PGE—decided that a longer-term solar radiation data base was needed to make appropriate decisions on where and when to site solar electric generating facilitates. The UO Solar Monitoring Laboratory was contracted to gather and archive solar radiation data in the region. Instead of establishing all solar monitoring stations with expensive first class instrumentation, the utility consortium decided that a more comprehensive solar resource assessment could be achieved by maintaining a limited number of high quality, reference, solar monitoring stations supplemented by a number of less expensive and easier to maintain subsidiary solar monitoring stations. In this manner, the solar resource could be more thoroughly mapped, and areas with the greatest solar resource could be more quickly identified.

Several of the new network stations are part of the US Bureau of Reclamation's AgriMet network. These stations—Christmas Valley, Hermiston, and Madras in Oregon; and Parma, Picabo, Twin Falls, and Boise in Idaho—are equipped with one LI-COR pyranometer for global measurements, and a LI-COR pyranometer with a shadow band for diffuse measurements. Except for Boise, these are part of the AgriMet network. The new stations at Bend, Oregon; Green River, Wyoming; and Moab, Utah were part of PacifiCorp's PV monitoring program and were equipped with Rotating Shadow Band Pyranometers (RSPs). An RSP measures global and diffuse irradiance and calculates the beam irradiance. In addition, stations at Boise and Hermiston were equipped with RSPs for comparison between different instrument packages. In 2000, two new stations equipped with RSPs were established at Ashland, Oregon and Cheney, Washington as part of the network expansion.

In addition to funding solar radiation data gathering, the contracts with our sponsors contain a limited amount of funding to provide education and training on the use of solar radiation data. The improved accessibility of the data, the resource assessment lessons, and the tools contained at this web site are a direct result of this funding. Continuation of these efforts depends on those agencies or companies that make use of these data and services also joining the solar radiation data monitoring consortium and become sponsors.

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© 2022, UO Solar Radiation Monitoring Laboratory.
Last revised: April 6, 2022.

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