Variability of solar power is a key driver in increasing the cost of integrating solar power into the electric grid because additional system resources are required to maintain the grid's reliability. In this study, we characterize the variability in power output of six photovoltaic plants in the USA and Canada with a total installed capacity of 195 MW (AC); it is based on minute-averaged data from each plant and the output from 390 inverters. We use a simple metric, “daily aggregate ramp rate” to quantify, categorize, and compare daily variability across these multiple sites. With this metric, the effect of geographic dispersion is observed, while controlling for climatic differences across the plants. Additionally, we characterized variability due to geographical dispersion by simulating a step by step increase of the plant size at the same location. We observed maximum ramp rates for 5, 21, 48, and 80 MWAC plants, respectively, as 0.7, 0.58, 0.53, and 0.43 times the plant's capacity. Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.