Since the first public release, over 35,000 people representing manufacturers, project developers, academic researchers, and policy makers have downloaded the System Advisor Model (SAM). Manufacturers are using the model to evaluate the impact of efficiency improvements or cost reductions in their products on the cost of energy from installed systems. Project developers use SAM to evaluate different system configurations to maximize earnings from electricity sales. Policy makers and designers use the model to experiment with different incentive structures.




SAM, originally called the "Solar Advisor Model," was developed by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in collaboration with Sandia National Laboratories in 2005. It was first used internally by the U.S. Department of Energy's Solar Energy Technologies Office for systems-based analysis of solar technology improvement opportunities within the program. The first public version was released in August 2007 as Version 1, making it possible for solar energy professionals to analyze photovoltaic systems and concentrating solar power (CSP) parabolic trough systems in the same modeling platform using consistent financial assumptions. Since 2007, two new versions have been released each year, adding new technologies and financing options. In 2010, the name changed to "System Advisor Model" to reflect the addition of non-solar technologies.

DOE, NREL, and Sandia continue to use the model for program planning and grant programs.

Current Capabilities

SAM combines a performance and financial model to represent a renewable energy project to facilitate decision making for people involved in the renewable energy industry. SAM makes performance predictions and cost of energy estimates for grid-connected power projects based on installation and operating costs and system design parameters that the user specifies as inputs to the model. SAM's performance models make hour-by-hour calculations of a power system's electric output. SAM includes models for the following CSP solar-field technologies:

  • Parabolic troughs
  • Molten-salt central receivers
  • Direct-steam central receivers
  • Dish/Stirling
  • Direct-steam linear Fresnel systems.

SAM also includes a generic solar thermal power model.

Planned Work

NREL is working to reform the CSP performance codes to a more efficient structure and coding language. Efforts also include developing a solver designed specifically for CSP systems that allows for significantly improved run times and more advanced control and optimization algorithms. The project extends selected current CSP models to capture high-temporal-resolution effects to support more advanced analysis activities including high resolution grid integration studies. Finally, this project also implements new models for Integrated Solar Combined Cycles (ISCC) and supercritical carbon dioxide (sCO2) power cycles that can interface with current CSP technology models.




Program Fact Sheet

Learn about other concentrating solar power research.