Assessment of solar radiation resource from the NASA-POWER reanalysis products for tropical climates in Ghana towards clean energy application

Geography and climatology of study area

The area of study, Ghana, is on the coastal edge of tropical West African, bounded in latitude 4.5° N and 11.5° N and longitude 3.5° W and 1.5° E, and characterized by a tropical monsoon climate system23,24. Figure 1 shows map of the study area indicating the selected twenty two (22) sunshine measurement stations distributed across the four main climatological zones and Table 1 summarizes the geographical positions of selected stations.

Figure 1

Adapted from Asilevi27.

Map of the study area showing all twenty two (22) synoptic stations distributed in four main climatological zones countrywide.

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Table 1 Geographical position and elevation for study sites.
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Atmospheric clarity over the area is closely connected to cloud amount distribution and rainfall activities, largely determined by the oscillatory migration of the Inter-Tropical Discontinuity (ITD), accounting for the West African Monsoon (WAM)25,26.

Owing to the highly variable spatiotemporal distribution of cloud amount vis-à-vis rainfall activities, resulting in contrasting climatic conditions in different parts of the region, the country is partitioned by the Ghana Meteorological Agency (GMet) into four main agro-ecological zones namely, the Savannah, Transition, Forest and Coastal zones as shown in Fig. 123. As a result, the region experiences an estimated Global solar radiation (GSR) intensity peaks in April–May and then in October–November, with the highest monthly average of 22 MJm−2 day−1 over the savannah climatic zone and the lowest monthly average of 13 MJm−2 day−1 over the forest climatic zone27.

Research datasets

Ground-based measurement data

Daily sunshine duration measurement datasets (n) spanning 1983–2018 where derived for estimating Global solar radiation (GSR). The measurements were taken by the Campbell-Stokes sunshine recorder, mounted at the 22 stations shown in Fig. 1, under unshaded conditions to ensure optimum sunlight exposure. The device concentrates sunlight onto a thin strip of sunshine card, which causes a burnt line representing the total period in hours during which sunshine intensity exceeds 120.0 Wm−2 according to World Meteorological Organization (WMO) recommendations27. The as-received daily records were quality control checked by ensuring 0 ≤ n ≤ N, where N is the astronomical day length representing the possible maximum duration of sunshine in hours determined by Eq. 1 from the latitude (ϕ) of the site of interest and the solar declination (δ) computed by Eq. 227:

$$ {text{N}} = frac{2}{15}cos^{ – 1} left[ { – tan phi tan {updelta }} right] $$


$$ {updelta } = 23.45sin left[ {360^{{text{o}}} times frac{{284 + {text{J}}}}{365}} right] $$


where J represents the number for the Julian day of the year (first January is 1 and second January is 2).

NASA-POWER Global solar radiation (GSR) reanalysis data

The satellite-based Global solar radiation (GSR) dataset for specific longitudes and latitudes of all 22 stations, assessed in the study, were retrieved from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration-Prediction of Worldwide Energy Resources (NASA-POWER) reanalysis repository based on the Modern Era Retrospective-Analysis for Research and Applications (MERRA-2) assimilation model products, developed from Surface Radiation Budget, and spanning equal study period (1983–2018). The datasets are accessible on a daily and monthly temporal resolution scales at 0.5° × 0.5° spatial coverage via a user friendly web-based mapping portal: The advantage of the NASA-POWER reanalysis GSR, is the wide spatial coverage, and thus can be used to develop a high spatial resolution of solar radiation across the study area.

The POWER Project analyzes, synthesizes and makes available surface radiation related parameters on a global scale, primarily from the World Climate Research Programme (WCRP), Global Energy and Water cycle Experiment (GEWEX), Surface Radiation Budget (SRB) project (Version 2.9), the Clouds and the Earth’s Radiant Energy System (CERES), FLASHFlux (Fast Longwave and Shortwave Radiative Fluxes from CERES and MODIS), and the Global Modeling and Assimilation Office (GMAO)17. Table 2 shows the source satellites and the corresponding temporal coverage used in the development of NASA-POWER GSR products.

Table 2 Satellites providing the NASA-POWER GSR datasets20.
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The monthly average NASA-POWER all-sky shortwave surface radiation reanalysis products are statistically validated, showing reasonable biases of − 6.6–13%, against a global network of surface radiation measurement metadata in an integrated database from the Baseline Surface Radiation Network (BSRN) of the World Radiation Monitoring Center (WRMC)20,22. The datasets are widely used in renewable energy application16,22, agricultural modelling of crop yields28, crop simulation exercises29, and plant disease modelling30.

Furthermore, in order to assess the suitability of the NASA-POWER surface solar radiation products for the study area, a synthetic sunshine duration based Global solar radiation (GSR) is developed from the Angstrom-Prescott sunshine duration model by Eq. 3 for comparisons27.

$$ {text{GSR}} = left[ {{text{a}} + {text{b}}frac{{text{n}}}{{text{N}}}} right]{text{H}}_{{text{o}}} $$


were Ho (kWhm−2 day−1) is the daily extraterrestrial solar radiation on an horizontal surface, n is the daily sunshine duration measurements obtained from the Ghana Meteorological Agency (GMet), and N is the maximum possible daily sunshine duration or the day length in hours determined by Eq. 1. Generalized regression constants a = 0.25 and b = 0.5 for the study area were determined by Asilevi27 from experimental radiometric data based on correlation regression analysis between atmospheric clarity index (GSR/Ho) and atmospheric cloudlessness index (n/N), for estimating solar radiation over the study area, and compared with other satellite data retrieved from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and the German Aerospace Centre (DLR)27. Ho was calculated from astronomical parameters by Eq. 4:

$$ {text{H}}_{0} = frac{{24{ } cdot { }60}}{pi } cdot {text{G}}_{{{text{sc}}}} cdot {text{d}}_{{text{r}}} left[ {omega_{{text{s}}} sin varphi sin delta + cos varphi cos delta sin omega_{{text{s}}} } right] $$


where Gsc is the Solar constant in MJm−2 min−1, dr is the relative Earth–Sun distance in meters (m), (omega_{s}) is the sunset hour angle (angular distance between the meridian of the observer and the meridian whose plane contains the sun), (delta) is the angle of declination in degrees (°) and (varphi) is the local latitude. A detailed presentation of the calculation was published in a previous work27.

Statistical assessment analysis

For the purpose of assessing the NASA-POWER derived monthly mean GSR (GSRn) datasets in comparison with the estimated Global Solar Radiation (GSRe) datasets used in this paper, the following deviation and correlation methods in Eqs. 5–11, each showing a complimentary result were used: Standard deviation (({upsigma })), residual error (RE), Root mean square error (RMSE), Mean bias error (MBE), Mean percentage error (MPE), Pearson’s correlation coefficient (r), and Willmott index of agreement (d) for n observations31,32,33,34,35. GSRe, GSRn, and RE represent the estimated GSR, NASA-POWER GSR, and the residual error between GSRe and GSRn respectively. A positive RE indicates that sunshine-based estimated GSR is larger than the NASA-POWER reanalysis dataset, while a negative RE indicates that sunshine-based estimated GSR is smaller than the NASA-POWER reanalysis dataset. The arithmetic mean of any dataset is µ.

The standard deviation (({upsigma })) was used to check the upper and lower limits of distribution around the mean deviations between GSRe and GSRn in order to ascertain violations between both datasets33. The RMSE is a standard statistical metric to quantify error margins in meteorology and climate research studies, and by definition is always positive, representing zero in the ideal case, plus a smaller value signifying a good marginal deviation31. The MBE is a good indicator for under-or overestimation in observations, with MBE values closest to zero being desirable. The MPE further indicates the percentage deviation between the GSRe and GSRn individual datasets35.

$$ {upsigma } = sqrt {frac{1}{{{text{n}} – 1}}mathop sum limits_{{{text{i}} = 1}}^{{text{n}}} left( {{text{GSR}} – {upmu }} right)^{2} } $$


$$ {text{RE}} = {text{GSR}}_{{text{e}}} – {text{GSR}}_{{text{n}}} $$


$$ {text{RMSE}} = sqrt {frac{1}{{text{n}}}mathop sum limits_{{{text{i}} = 1}}^{{text{n}}} left( {{text{RE}}} right)^{2} } $$


$$ {text{MBE}} = frac{1}{{text{n}}}mathop sum limits_{{{text{i}} = 1}}^{{text{n}}} left( {{text{RE}}} right) $$


$$ {text{MPE}} = frac{1}{{text{n}}}mathop sum limits_{{{text{i}} = 1}}^{{text{n}}} left( {frac{{{text{RE}}}}{{{text{GSR}}_{{text{e}}} }} times 100{text{% }}} right) $$


$$ {text{r}} = frac{{mathop sum nolimits_{{{text{i}} = 1}}^{{text{n}}} left( {{text{GSR}}_{{text{e}}} – {upsigma }_{{text{e}}} } right)left( {{text{GSR}}_{{text{n}}} – {upsigma }_{{text{n}}} } right)}}{{left( {{text{n}} – 1} right){upsigma }_{{text{e}}} {upsigma }_{{text{n}}} }} $$


$$ {text{d}} = 1 – left[ {frac{{mathop sum nolimits_{{{text{i}} = 1}}^{{text{n}}} left( {{text{GSR}}_{{text{e}}} – {text{GSR}}_{{text{n}}} } right)^{2} }}{{mathop sum nolimits_{{{text{i}} = 1}}^{{text{n}}} left( {left| {{text{GSR}}_{{text{e}}} – {text{GSR}}_{{{text{nave}}}} left| + right|{text{GSR}}_{{text{n}}} – {text{GSR}}_{{{text{nave}}}} } right|} right)^{2} }}} right] $$


Further, as with other statistical studies in meteorology36, the Pearson’s correlation coefficient (r) was used to quantify the strength of correlation between GSRe and GSRn. Finally, the Willmott index of agreement (d) commonly used in meteorological literature computed from Eq. 7 is used to assess the degree of GSRe/GSRn agreement34.

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