Updates to Lab Software Bring Big Benefits to Renewable Energy Industry

January 4, 2018

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When it comes to decision-making in the renewable energy industry, professionals across all sectors benefit from accurate predictions of performance and cost as they develop new projects. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s System Advisory Model, known as SAM, helps to do just that—it creates performance predictions and energy cost estimates for renewable power projects. These estimates are based on installation and operating costs, in addition to system design parameters that the user specifies as inputs into the model. The resulting computer estimations help to build a model of a renewable energy project, and to make cost and performance projections based on model results.

The tool, which is widely used across the solar industry, just received some upgrades as part of an award in the SunShot National Laboratory Multiyear Partnership (SuNLaMP). One important update: SAM now has an open platform, which allows private companies, researchers, and academics to build open-source or proprietary, custom, high value-add features, sub-models, and methods on top or in lieu of existing models.

Publishing the source code of SAM under a liberal-use license is a huge milestone that allows for three critical capabilities. First, the code behind the various models in SAM can be fully vetted by its users. Second, those models can either be modified to capture improvements or substituted entirely to accommodate third-party specifications. Third, the interface to the modeling engine can also be tweaked and expanded to meet specific user needs. These capabilities provide an extra level of transparency to SAM users and allow niche needs to be met much easier.

These changes can be shared with the public under any number of licensing scenarios. For example, the modified code can be published in its source form, made available as an executable application for a fee or a subscription, or be kept for in-house use only by the developers. The lab will continue to maintain the core code of SAM, and, in the future, may incorporate some of the code submitted by third parties if it provides a substantial benefit to its user base across the renewable energy sector.

Learn more about SETO’s SAM project.