In this study, we investigate the performance ratio (PR) of about 100 German photovoltaic system installations. Monitored PR is found to be systematically lower by ~2–4% when calculated with irradiation data obtained by pyranometers (henceforth denoted as PRPyr) as compared with irradiation amounts measured by reference cells (denoted as PRSi). Annual PRSi for the ~100 systems is found to be between ~70% and ~90% for the year 2010, with a median PR of ~84%. Next, simulations were performed to determine loss mechanisms of the top 10 performing systems, revealing a number of these loss mechanisms may still allow for some optimization. Despite the fact that we do not see such values from our monitoring data base up to now, we believe PRSi values above 90% are realistic even today, using today's commercially available components, and should be expected more frequently in the future. This contribution may help in deepening our knowledge on both energy loss mechanisms and efficiency limits on the system level and standardization processes of system-related aspects. Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.