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Why Pyranometers are the Better Choice for PV Installations Over Reference Cells


For years, the debate has raged on in the PV installation industry: which tool is better for measuring solar radiation, pyranometers or reference cells? While reference cells have long been considered the gold standard, it’s time to reconsider that assumption and examine the facts. In this article, we will explore why pyranometers are the superior option for PV installations and challenge the conventional wisdom that reference cells are the only way to go.

The Accuracy of Measurements

Pyranometers have long been regarded as less accurate than reference cells in measuring solar radiation. However, advances in technology and improved manufacturing processes have greatly improved the accuracy of pyranometers in recent years. In fact, some studies have shown that pyranometers are now just as accurate as reference cells, if not more so. This is because pyranometers use thermopile technology, which is able to measure both direct and diffuse solar radiation. In contrast, reference cells only measure direct radiation, making them less accurate overall.

The Cost Factor

Reference cells are often considered the more expensive option for PV installations, with prices that can easily reach several thousand dollars. On the other hand, pyranometers are significantly more affordable, with prices that start at just a few hundred dollars. This cost difference can make a significant impact for large-scale installations and make pyranometers a more appealing choice for many installers.

Ease of Use

Another advantage of pyranometers is their ease of use. Reference cells require regular cleaning and recalibration, which can be time-consuming and labor-intensive. Pyranometers, on the other hand, are self-cleaning and require minimal maintenance. This can save installers both time and money in the long run and make pyranometers the more convenient option.


Pyranometers are also known for their durability and ruggedness. They are designed to withstand harsh environmental conditions and are less likely to be damaged by wind, rain, or other weather events. In contrast, reference cells are more delicate and can be easily damaged, leading to costly repairs and replacements.


Pyranometers are also more flexible than reference cells in terms of their placement and installation options. They can be mounted in a variety of positions and are not limited by the need for direct sunlight, making them the better option for installations in challenging locations. Reference cells, on the other hand, require direct sunlight to function properly, limiting their versatility and making them less adaptable to different environments.

Environmental Impact

Finally, it’s worth considering the environmental impact of using reference cells versus pyranometers. Reference cells often contain toxic materials and can be difficult to dispose of properly, leading to environmental concerns. Pyranometers, on the other hand, are made with environmentally-friendly materials and are easier to recycle, making them the more sustainable choice.


In conclusion, the evidence clearly supports the argument that pyranometers are the superior option for PV installations over reference cells. From accuracy, cost, ease of use, durability, flexibility, and environmental impact, pyranometers offer numerous advantages that make them the better choice for both installers and the planet. It’s time to challenge the conventional wisdom and embrace the many benefits of pyranometers for measuring solar radiation.