TOP-5 programs for modeling solar power plants

From a small home PV panel farm to a large commercial PV project, this software will help you design and manage efficiently.

There are over 100 paid and free programs designed to calculate the performance, minimize risks and maximize the profitability of solar power plants at the planning stage. We examined the advantages and disadvantages of the most popular of them.

1. SolarGis pvPlanner

Release year: 2010

Developer: SolarGis, Slovakia

Cost: starter package – free, basic package – from €1800/year, professional package – from €3600/year


SolarGis pvPlanner

SolarGis pvPlanner is a simple and user-friendly web application for planning and optimizing photovoltaic systems. Its main advantage, in addition to ease of use, is accurate data from 19 satellites, on the basis of which calculations are made. Independent studies have shown that SolarGis’s analysis of PV panel performance was more accurate than that of its competitors.

The pvPlanner interface allows the user to find the desired location on the map, specify the parameters of the PV system (power, module type, inverter type, installation system, azimuth, tilt angle) and run the simulation. SolarGis mathematical models will calculate what will be the monthly or annual electricity output, productivity factor, solar radiation parameters and temperature.

This PV scheduler has the following limitations:

  • Not suitable for financial analysis
  • Does not cover all regions of the world
  • Produces fewer technical calculations than competing applications
  • Internet required to run simulations

2. RETScreen

Release year: 1998

Developer: Government Research Center CanmetENERGY, Canada

Cost: Free in preview mode, from $869/year



The RETScreen software package was developed by order of the Government of Canada. It is available in 34 languages, including Russian and Ukrainian, and is used by over 500 thousand people in almost all countries of the world. RETScreen is used to estimate power generation, as well as to calculate costs, emission reductions, financial viability and risks.

RETScreen integrates extensive databases, including a global climate database from over 6,700 NASA ground stations and satellites. The software also includes many multimedia educational materials.

Since RETScreen allows you to evaluate the efficiency of power plants of different types anywhere in the world, it is great for research activities. This software product is used by 1100 universities and colleges, and the data obtained with its help is the basis of many teaching aids and scientific papers.

RetScreen Limitations:

  • Does not allow you to save, print and transfer files in free mode
  • Does not support high-precision calculations

3. System Advisor Model (SAM)

Release year: 2007

Developer: National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), USA

Cost: free


System Advisor Model (SAM)

SAM is a sophisticated modeling system aimed at professional project developers, engineers and researchers. It calculates the efficiency of not only PV panels, but also other clean power plants – wind, geothermal, biomass and tidal energy.

SAM can model the performance of a hybrid power plant and show its daily hourly power generation schedule. SAM also does financial modeling. The system can calculate the cost of electricity generation, taking into account project costs, lending rates, inflation rates, and the cost of renting land and real estate.

SAM limits:

  • Less intuitive than competitors interface


Release year: 1999

Developer: Valentine Energy Software, Germany

Cost: 30-day free trial, up to €1295 plus VAT.



This unique 3D visualization tool allows you to accurately recreate the terrain, design all types of modern PV systems on it and simulate their operation. PV*SOL shows a detailed and realistic 3D view of one to 10,000 photovoltaic panels. This allows you to get a better idea of the solar power plant and take into account the shadows of surrounding objects falling on it.

PV*SOL is offered in four editions, each with a 30-day free trial. These programs may be the best option for those who need to find the optimal placement of PV panels on roofs with complex profiles. They can also analyze the financial costs of electricity and heat supply of buildings.


  • Performance analysis is not as complete as competing programs
  • Difficulty in building 3D models


Release year: 1992

Developer: Institute of Environmental Sciences at the University of Geneva, Switzerland

Cost: 30-day free trial, $682 per year



The Pvsyst software package is intended for use by architects, design engineers and researchers. Also, this software is convenient for gaining knowledge about the operation of connected photovoltaic systems. It contains a large library of data on various photovoltaic systems and devices and a detailed English-language guide to designing solar power plants.

Pvsyst offers 3D modeling tools for shadow loss calculations and uses dozens of different simulations of system processes. It allows you to accurately determine the negative factors that lead to losses of electricity and heat, as well as find ways to minimize losses.


  • Only models PV systems and cannot analyze hybrid power plants

Any of the five tools listed above will help you simulate the operation of a solar power plant and evaluate its efficiency. Each of them has its own strengths. web service SolarGis pvPlanner may be the best choice for those who do not want to spend time and effort installing software and learning overly convoluted settings. PV*SOL may be the most suitable solution for those who need to make a beautiful 3D model to present their project to investors. The System Advisor Model is suitable for developing complex hybrid systems with multiple renewable energy sources. RETScreen is sure to appeal to researchers who need to evaluate the efficiency of clean energy generation anywhere in the world. And PVsyst will probably appeal to those who want to improve their knowledge of modern solar panels.

Since each of the five PV system modeling software packages we reviewed has at least 30 days of free trial, there is nothing stopping you from trying all five and choosing the one that suits you best.

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