Photovoltaic cells have a complex relationship (IV Curve) between their operating environment and the maximum power they can produce. The fill factor, abbreviated FF, is a parameter which characterizes the non-linear electrical behavior of the solar cell. Fill factor is defined as the ratio of the maximum power from the solar cell to the product of Open Circuit Voltage Voc and Short-Circuit Current Isc. In tabulated data it is often used to estimate the maximum power that a cell can provide with an optimal load under given conditions, P=FF*Voc*Isc. For most purposes, FF, Voc, and Isc are enough information to give a useful approximate model of the electrical behavior of a photovoltaic cell under typical conditions.

For any given set of operational conditions, cells have a single operating point where the values of the current (I) and Voltage (V) of the cell result in a maximum power output. These values correspond to a particular load resistance, which is equal to V / I as specified by Ohm's Law. The power P is given by P=V*I. A photovoltaic cell, for the majority of its useful curve, acts as a constant current source. However, at a photovoltaic cell's MPP region, its curve has an approximately inverse exponential relationship between current and voltage. From basic circuit theory, the power delivered from or to a device is optimized where the derivative (graphically, the slope) dI/dV of the I-V curve is equal and opposite the I/V ratio (where dP/dV=0). This is known as the maximum power point (MPP) and corresponds to the "knee" of the curve.

A load with resistance R=V/I equal to the reciprocal of this value draws the maximum power from the device. This is sometimes called the characteristic resistance of the cell. This is a dynamic quantity which changes depending on the level of illumination, as well as other factors such as temperature and the age of the cell. If the resistance is lower or higher than this value, the power drawn will be less than the maximum available, and thus the cell will not be used as efficiently as it could be. Maximum power point trackers utilize different types of control circuit or logic to search for this point and thus to allow the converter circuit to extract the maximum power available from a cell.