What determines the voltage of a solar cell?

Written by beverley gee
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What determines the voltage of a solar cell?
Cells connected together in modules to make a solar panel. (Getty Thinkstock)

A solar cell converts sunlight to electricity at an atomic level. Semiconductor materials in the cell, such as silicone, absorb light and release electrons, which are collected to produce an electric current. This process is called photovoltaics. The voltage of a solar cell is determined by the amount of light that strikes it and the photovoltaic qualities of the material used to absorb the light. Cells are connected together to form modules. A solar panel consists of arrays of modules. The operating efficiency of a solar panel installation can be checked periodically by testing with a multimeter device.

Skill level:
Moderately Easy

Things you need

  • Multimeter
  • Sunny day

Show MoreHide


    Checking the output of a solar panel

  1. 1

    Disconnect the regulator and battery from the solar panel. Adjust the panel so that it is fully facing the sun.

    What determines the voltage of a solar cell?
    A multimeter is used to check output from a solar panel. (Polka Dot Images/Polka Dot/Getty Images)
  2. 2

    Turn the dial on the multimeter to "Volts". Connect the positive (+ive) terminal of the multimeter to the positive terminal on the panel, and do the same with the negative (-ive) terminals. Observe the reading.

  3. 3

    Check the short circuit current by selecting "10A" on the multimeter and taking the reading.

  4. 4

    Check the operating current by reconnecting the regulator and battery to the panel. Select "10A" on the multimeter. Disconnect the positive cable between the regulator and the battery. Connect the positive cable from the multimeter to the positive terminal on the regulator. Connect the negative cable from the multimeter to the positive battery terminal. Note the reading. Reconnect the system to restore normal function.

Tips and warnings

  • Multimeters can be purchased at DIY outlets, electrical component suppliers and general household retailers, both in-store and online.
  • When checking the operating current of a solar panel, ensure that the battery is not fully charged or you will get a low reading, as the battery will not be accepting current from the panel.
  • Always select 10A on the multimeter when checking the short circuit and operating currents. You can increase the setting, if necessary, after the initial readings.
  • Record readings in a notebook to enable future comparisons. Drops in output may indicate failed cells.
  • Ensure the cables and terminals are connected correctly or you will receive a negative reading.

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