An improved method for direct incident solar radiation calculation from hourly solar insolation data in building energy simulation

Publication Type

Journal Article

Date Published



Solar radiation considerably influences the energy consumption of buildings and the power production of building integrated photovoltaic (BIPV) systems. Hourly solar insolation (Wh/m2), represented as the amount of solar irradiance collected on the ground during a 1-h period, is the most common solar radiation data available and widely used in weather files applied in building energy modeling programs (BEMPs). Because the solar beam and position vary over time, the use of hourly insolation data as the input might result in errors in the estimation of the direct incident solar radiation on a particular surface. In this study, methods used in BEMPs for direct incident solar radiation calculations are first analyzed, and an improved method adopting a new algorithm for estimating the solar irradiance is proposed. The algorithm assumes that the solar irradiance changes linearly within a 1-h period and can be estimated based on the solar irradiance at the half clock and slope. The collected direct normal solar irradiance data of 2016 from eight solar radiation stations in China were used to demonstrate the proposed method and evaluate its performance by comparing the results with those from three conventional methods used in BEMPs along with the ground truth measurements. In addition, in this study, factors affecting the accuracy of the calculation results are explored. The results of the estimated direct incident solar radiation show that the proposed method achieves the best accuracy, followed by the methods used in DOE-2, EnergyPlus, and DeST. The proposed method guarantees that the hourly direct solar insolation will remain the same and reflects the variation in the direct solar irradiance across a 1-h time frame. The proposed method can be adopted in BEMPs to improve the accuracy of the solar radiation calculation, thereby improving the accuracy of the simulated building performance and the BIPV production.


Energy and Buildings



Year of Publication






Short Title

Energy and Buildings