The power generated by large grid-connected photovoltaic (PV) plants depends greatly on the solar irradiance. This paper studies the effects of the solar irradiance variability analyzing experimental 1-s data collected throughout a year at six PV plants, totaling 18 MWp. Each PV plant was modeled as a first order filter function based on an analysis in the frequency domain of the irradiance data and the output power signals. An empiric expression which relates the filter parameters and the PV plant size has been proposed. This simple model has been successfully validated precisely determining the daily maximum output power fluctuation from incident irradiance measurements. Copyright © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.