What Voltage My Solar Panel Produces (Calculations + Examples)

The voltage a solar panel produces can vary for a few reasons. Some of the reasons are positive, some are not. The voltage produced by a panel is really only part of a more important question: How many watts should the panel produce?

There are three factors that impact this question;

  • Volts
  • Amps
  • Weather Conditions

Every panel on the market is designed to produce a certain voltage and current under various conditions. These specifications are generally printed on the back of the panel.

Knowing how to assess the specifications of a panel will help you determine if it will provide the power you need.

Voltage Meter Control Panel
Voltage Meter Control Panel

Solar Panel Voltage

The voltage of a solar panel is the result of individual solar cell voltage, the number of those cells, and how the cells are connected within the panel. Every cell and panel has two voltage ratings.

Open Circuit Voltage

The Voc is the amount of voltage the device can produce with no load at 25º C. This value is a little like the maximum horsepower a car’s engine can put out. It is a lab-produced value that has little value in the field.

The value will vary due to atmospheric conditions and temperature.

  • Maximum potential voltage.
  • No Load.
  • Zero current.
  • Not a working voltage.

Voltage at Maximum Power

The Vmp is the voltage the device will produce a maximum power output. This is essentially the working voltage of the device. It is the voltage the panel will supply to a battery or charge controller.

  • Maximum working voltage.
  • Full load.
  • Full current.
  • The voltage applied to your electrical system.

How Various Panel Voltages Are Produced

Solar panels can be designed to produce just about any voltage. A panel is a collection of individual solar cells. Individual cells produce between 0.45 and 0.6 volts (Vmp) at 25º C.

The voltage output of the individual cells can vary due to the type and quality of the cell used. Groups of cells are wired together in a panel to produce various voltages.

Number of Cells for Typical Voltage Panels

  • 32 cells x 0.46 Voc = 14.72 Vmp (12 volt system.)
  • 72 cells x 0.46 volts = 27.60 Vmp (24 volt system.)
  • 96 cells x 0.50 volts = 48.0 Vmp (Large commercial arrays.)

This is where we find part of the answer to, “How many volts should my panel put out?” Most 32 cell panels are wired in series to produce voltage for a 12-volt system.

Most 72 cell panels are wired in series to produce 24 volts, but could also have pairs of strings wired in parallel to produce more current at 12 volts.

Vmp to Voc Ratio

When looking at a panel of a given nominal voltage, a good rule of thumb for estimating the Vmp is to add about 20% to the nominal voltage. To estimate the Voc value, add about 80% to the nominal value.

These will almost never be exactly right but are a good estimate. The certificate on the back of the panel or other manufacturer documentation is the only place to find the exact voltage ratings of a panel.

Estimating Voc and Vmp Value For a Panel

  • 24 volt panel
  • 24 volts x 0.8 = 18 volts
  • 24 volts + 18 volts = 42 Voc
  • 24 volt panel
  • 24 volts x 0.2 = 4.8 volts
  • 24 volts + 4.8 volts = 28.8 Vmp

If you measure the voltage of a panel that is not connected to any load and is in full sun you should measure the Voc value.

As soon as you connect the leads to a load, the voltage will drop to something near the Vmp value. It will vary based on the load applied.

Measuring Panel Voltage

Measuring volts is a fairly simple procedure. A simple Voltmeter or Multi-meter from your local hardware store is all you need. Set the meter to DC Volt in the appropriate range.

Touch the probes of the meter to bare wire at the end of the cables and you can measure the voltage of the panel. Be careful not to let wires touch each other.

Panel Current: Watt – Volts – Amps – Ipm

To calculate the power (watts) provided by a solar panel we need to know the size of the electrical wave (volts) and the force of the current (amps) behind the wave. Most solar panels list two current values: Maximum Current (Ipm) and Short Circuit Current (Isc).

  • Amps = Force.
  • Ipm = Amps at Maximum Power.
  • Isc = Amps at Short Circuit.

How Various Amp Ratings Are Achieved.

A typical solar cell produces around 30 milliamps per square centimeter or about 187 milliamps per square inch. At that rate, a 4-inch square cell will produce approximately 3 amps. Different cell materials and cell sizes will produce various current outputs.

Various sized cell output at 187 Milliamps per square inch.

  • 3 inch square cell = 1.7 amps.
  • 4 inch round cell = 2.2 amps.
  • 4 inch square cell = 3.0 amps.

Higher amp ratings are achieved by wiring groups of cells in parallel. This will lower the volt rating of the panel but may increase the overall power (watt) output.

Measuring Amps of a Panel

Measuring current is not as simple as measuring volts. The Current at Maximum Power (Imp) can only be measured while there is power running through the wire attached to the panel. DC Amp Meters are a little pricey but are available if you have the urge to measure your current.

The Short Circuit Current (Isc) requires shorting the Positive and Negative leads through an appropriate Amp Meter. Short-Circuiting the leads of the panel could damage it, so this practice should be avoided unless you know what you are doing.

I have lived off-grid for 20 years and have never found it necessary to measure the Isc of a panel. Take the manufacturer’s word for the rated current. It is safer and easier.

Watts

Watts is a measure of work. It is the amount of energy the panel can provide to your system at maximum solar exposure at 25º C. It is calculated by multiplying Volts at Maximum Power (Vmp) and the Current at Maximum Power (Ipm).

This calculation expresses the maximum potential power the panel could provide. Load, atmospheric conditions, and temperature, can all impact this value.

The likelihood that you will experience this output very often is pretty slim.

  • V x I = P (Volts x Current = Power in watts)
  • Most panels are rated by Watts at some Voltage.
  • Only achievable in specific conditions.

As is often the case, a simple question does not have a simple answer. “How many volts should my solar panel put out?” is not as straightforward as one might expect. There are a lot of variables at play.

Sources

Solar Panel Maintenance FAQ

Do I need to clean my solar panels?

Unless you live in an area that doesn’t get much rain, or you live in an area with high amounts of smog or dust, cleaning solar panels is not usually necessary. Fine dust or dirt do not have much of an effect on the efficiency of your panels, although this can eventually build up into hard grime that will begin causing problems. We recommend cleaning your panels once or twice a year just to be safe. 

How do I maintain my solar panels? 

One of the best aspects of solar panels is that they are basically maintenance-free; you simply set and forget. However, it’s good to make sure they are not being shaded too much and to keep an eye on your charge controller to make sure the batteries are being charged properly. 

Do solar panels need to be serviced? 

Solar panels have no moving parts and are thus basically maintenance-free! They do not need to be serviced at all, other than occasional cleaning. Inverters and batteries are arguably the most vulnerable part of your solar system and will need serviced or replaced every decade. 

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