The cloud index is a key parameter of the Heliosat method. This method is widely used to calculate solar irradiance on the Earth’s surface from Meteosat visible channel images. Moreover, cloud index images are the basis of short-term forecasting of solar irradiance and photovoltaic power production. For this purpose, cloud motion vectors are derived from consecutive images, and the motion of clouds is extrapolated to obtain forecasted cloud index images. The cloud index calculation is restricted to the daylight hours, as long as SEVIRI HR-VIS images are used. Hence, this forecast method cannot be used before sunrise. In this paper, a method is introduced that can be utilized a few hours before sunrise. The cloud information is gained from the brightness temperature difference (BTD) of the 10.8 µm and 3.9 µm SEVIRI infrared channels. A statistical relation is developed to assign a cloud index value to either the BTD or the brightness temperature T10:8, depending on the cloud class to which the pixel belongs (fog and low stratus, clouds with temperatures less than 232 K, other clouds). Images are composed of regular HR-VIS cloud index values that are used to the east of the terminator and of nighttime BTD-derived cloud index values used to the west of the terminator, where the Sun has not yet risen. The motion vector algorithm is applied to the images and delivers a forecast of irradiance at sunrise and in the morning. The forecasted irradiance is validated with ground measurements of global horizontal irradiance, and the advantage of the new approach is shown. The RMSE of forecasted irradiance based on the presented nighttime cloud index for the morning hours is between 3 and 70 W/m2, depending on the time of day. This is an improvement against the previous precision range of the forecast based on the daytime cloud index between 70 and 85 W/m2.
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