NREL Renewable Energy Resource Data

Welcome to the docs page for NREL’s renewable energy resource datasets! These docs apply to all of the NREL spatiotemporal meteorological datasets stored in HDF5 files including data for solar, wind, wave, and temperature variables. For example, these docs apply to these NREL data products (not an exhaustive list!):

  • The National Solar Radiation Database (NSRDB)

  • The Wind Integration National Dataset Toolkit (WIND Toolkit)

  • Other wind data stored in the WIND Toolkit AWS bucket (e.g., NOW-23, PR-100, Sup3rWind, international wind data, etc…)

  • High-resolution downscaled climate change data (Sup3rCC)

  • High Resolution Ocean Surface Wave Hindcast (US Wave) Data

  • Other spatiotemporal meteorological data from NREL!


  • attributes - Meta data associated with an NREL h5 file or a dataset within that h5 file. This can be information about how the file was created, the software versions used to create the data, physical units of datasets, scale factors for compressed integer storage, or something else. attributes are stored in namespaces similar to python dictionaries for every h5 file and every dataset in every h5 file. This is not typically spatial meta data and is not related to the meta dataset. For more information, see the h5py attributes docs.

  • chunks - Data arrays in an h5 dataset are stored in chunks which are subsets of the data array stored sequentially on disk. When reading an h5 file, you only have to read one chunk of data at a time, so if a file has a 1TB dataset with shape (8760, N) but the chunk shape is (8760, 100), you don’t have to read the full 1TB of data to access a single gid, you only have to read the single chunk of data (in this case a 8760x100 array). For more details, see the h5py chunks docs.

  • CLI - Command Line Interface (CLI). A program you can run from a command line call in a shell e.g., hsds, hsls, etc…

  • datasets - Named arrays (e.g., “windspeed_100m”, “ghi”, “temperature_2m”, etc…) stored in an h5 file. These are frequently 2D arrays with dimensions (time, space) and can be sliced with a [idy, idx] syntax. See the h5py dataset docs for details. We also refer to all our NREL data products as “datasets” so sorry for the confusion!

  • gid - We commonly refer to locations in a spatiotemporal NREL dataset by the location’s gid which is the spatial index of the location of interest (zero-indexed). For example, in a 2D dataset with shape (time, space), gid=99 (zero-indexed) would be the 100th column (1-indexed) in the 2D array.

  • h5 - File extension for the heirarchical data format (e.g., “HDF5”) that is widely used for spatiotemporal data at NREL. See the h5py library for more details.

  • h5pyd - The python library that provides the HDF REST interface to NREL data hosted on the cloud. This allows for the public to access small parts of large cloud-hosted datasets. See the h5pyd library for more details.

  • hsds - The highly scalable data service (HSDS) that we recommend to access small chunks of very large cloud-hosted NREL datasets. See the hsds library for more details.

  • meta - The dataset in an NREL h5 file that contains information about the spatial axis. This is typically a pandas DataFrame with columns such as “latitude”, “longitude”, “state”, etc… The DataFrame is typically converted to a records array for storage in an h5 dataset. The length of the meta data should match the length of axis 1 of a 2D spatiotemporal dataset.

  • S3 - Amazon Simple Storage Service (S3) is a basic cloud file storage system we use to store raw .h5 files in their full volume. Downloading files directly from S3 may not be the easiest way to access the data because each file tends to be multiple terabytes. Instead, you can stream small chunks of the files via HSDS.

  • scale_factor - We frequently scale data by a multiplicative factor, round the data to integer precision, and store the data in integer arrays. The scale_factor is an attribute associated with the relevant h5 dataset that defines the multiplicative factor required to unscale the data from integer storage to the original physical units.

  • time_index - The dataset in an NREL h5 file that contains information about the temporal axis. This is typically a pandas DatetimeIndex that has been converted to a string array for storage in an h5 dataset. The length of this dataset should match the length of axis 0 of a 2D spatiotemporal dataset.

Data Format

NREL data is frequently provided in heirarchical data format (HDF5 or .h5). Each file contains many datasets, with each dataset representing a physical variable or meta data. Datasets are commonly 2 dimensional time-series arrays with dimensions (time, space). The temporal axis is defined by time_index, while the spatial axis is defined by meta. For storage efficiency, we commonly scale each dataset by a multiplicative factor and store as an integer. The scale_factor is provided in the scale_factor attribute. The units for each variable are also commonly provided as an attribute called units.

Data Location - NREL Users

If you are at NREL, the easiest way to access this data is on the NREL high-performance computing system (HPC). Go to the NREL HPC website and request access via an NREL project with an HPC allocation. Once you are on the HPC, you can find that datasets in the /datasets/ directory (e.g., run the linux command $ ls /datasets/). Go through the directory tree until you find the .h5 files you are looking for. This datasets directory should not be confused with a dataset from an h5 file.

When using the rex examples below, update the file paths with the relevant NREL HPC file paths in /datasets/ and set hsds=False.

Data Location - External Users

If you are not at NREL, the easiest way to access this data is via HSDS. These files are massive and downloading the full files would crash your computer. HSDS provides a solution to stream small chunks of the data to your laptop or server for just the time or space domain you’re interested in.

See this docs page for instructions on how to set up HSDS and then continue on to the Data Access Examples section below.

To find relevant HSDS files, you can use HSDS and h5pyd to explore the NREL public data directory listings. For example, if you are running an HSDS local server, you can use the CLI utility hsls, for example, run: $ hsls /nrel/ or $ hsls /nrel/nsrdb/v3/. You can also use h5pyd to do the same thing. In a python kernel, import h5pyd and then run: print(list(h5pyd.Folder('/nrel/'))) to list the /nrel/ directory.

The Open Energy Data Initiative (OEDI) is also invaluable in finding energy-relevant public datasets that are not necessarily spatiotemporal h5 data.

Note that raw NREL .h5 data files are hosted on AWS S3. In contrast, the files on HSDS are not real “files”. They are just domains that you can access with h5pyd or rex tools to stream small chunks of the files stored on S3. The multi-terabyte .h5 files on S3 would be incredibly cumbersome to access otherwise.

We have also experimented with external data access using fsspec and zarr, but the examples below may not work with these utilities.

Data Access Examples

If you are on the NREL HPC, update the file paths in the examples below and set hsds=False.

If you are not at NREL, see the “Data Location - External Users” section above for how to setup HSDS and how to find the files that you’re interested in. Then update the file paths to the files you want and keep hsds=True.

The rex Resource Class

Data access in rex is built on the Resource class. The class can be used to open and explore NREL h5 files, extract and automatically unscale data, and retrieve time_index and meta datasets in their native pandas datatypes.

from rex import Resource
with Resource('/nrel/nsrdb/current/nsrdb_2020.h5', hsds=True) as res:
    ghi = res['ghi', :, 500]

Here, we are retrieving the ghi dataset for all time indices (axis=0) for gid 500 and also printing other useful meta data.

For a full description the Resource class API see the docs here.

There are also special Resource subclasses for many of the renewable energy resource types. For a list of these classes and their corresponding documentation, see the docs page here. For example, the WindResource class can be used to open files in the WIND Toolkit bucket (including datasets like NOW-23 and Sup3rWind) and will interpolate windspeeds to the desired hub height, even if the requested windspeed is not available as a dataset:

from rex import WindResource
with WindResource('/nrel/wtk/conus/wtk_conus_2007.h5', hsds=True) as res:
    ws88 = res['windspeed_88m', :, 1000]

Here, notice that windspeed_88m is not a dataset available in the WIND Toolkit file, but it can be requested by the WindResource class, which interpolates the windspeeds between the available 80 and 100 meter hub heights.

The rex Resource Extraction Class

There are also classes that implement additional quality-of-life features. For example, you can use the ResourceX class to retrieve a timeseries DataFrame for a requested coordinate:

from rex import ResourceX
with ResourceX('/nrel/wtk/conus/wtk_conus_2007.h5', hsds=True) as res:
    df = res.get_lat_lon_df('temperature_2m', (39.7407, -105.1686))

Note that in this example, the ResourceX object first has to download the full meta data, build a KDTree, then query the tree. This takes a lot of time for a single coordinate query. If you are querying multiple coordinates, take a look at other methods like ResourceX.lat_lon_gid that get the gid for multiple coordinates at once. Also consider saving the gid indices you are interested in and reusing them instead of querying these methods repeatedly.

You can also use a ResourceX class specific to a given resource type (e.g., wind or solar) to retrieve a DataFrame with all variables you will need to run the System Advisor Model (SAM). For example, try:

from rex import SolarX
with SolarX('/nrel/nsrdb/current/nsrdb_2020.h5', hsds=True) as res:
    df = res.get_SAM_lat_lon((39.7407, -105.1686))

For a full list of ResourceX classes with additional features specific to various renewable energy resource types, see the docs here.