Abstract This paper proposes a method for assessing the effect that different features of partial shading conditions (PSC) may have on the operation of a photovoltaic (PV) system. Simulation studies, based on an experimentally validated model of a PV system, are used to assess the influence of PSC. Three classifications of PSC are defined based on the timescale of their influence on the irradiance experienced by the PV module and the relative location of the voltage at which the global maximum power point occurs is assessed. Sample case studies are presented to illustrate the application of the proposed PSC assessment method. The results have implications for the design of future maximum power point tracking methods.