12-volt refrigerators are an invaluable appliance for anyone spending a lot of time outdoors, camping, or those interested in off-the-grid alternatives. One of the most enticing things about 12-volt refrigerators is that, with the right setup, they may be powered solely by way of a solar panel. So, the question now becomes, what is the best size solar panel for running a 12-volt fridge?
The best size solar panel for running a 12-volt fridge is 150-watts, with a 200-watt battery. In order to use your fridge during the night, energy produced by your panel during the daylight must be stored in a battery. 150-watts is large enough to ensure you are covered in the event of a cloudy day.
In this article, we will be exploring the feasibility of running a 12-volt refrigerator from a solar panel, the different options available to you when doing so, and everything else you need to know about the process in general. Next, we will go over the most optimal solar panel size needed to adequately sustain a 12-volt refrigerator. Finally, we will provide the reader with a brief buying guide and advice on buying a quality solar panel and 12-volt fridge.
Can I Run a 12v Fridge From a Solar Panel?
Those who are interested in the idea of running a 12-volt refrigerator from a solar panel will be pleased to learn that not only is it possible, but that it is surprisingly rather simple and straightforward.
However, before you jump right into it, you need to first understand a few basics about solar technology, how it works, and what to expect. A little bit of consumer research on the matter is essential, but the good news is that this article is designed to provide you with exactly what you need to know to get started immediately.
The first thing which is necessary to understand is how a solar panel produces output, and more importantly, the factors that influence their ability to generate power.
Solar panels are only able to produce electricity when directly exposed to sunlight. Through a process known as photovoltaics, the solar panel, through the use of semi-conductive materials from which it is constructed, draws in light and converts it into electricity.
Moreover, your solar panel will be subject to certain variables that may come to influence its efficiency. The most important factors that your solar panel will need to account for are:
- The positioning of your solar panel relative to the sun
- The temperature (hotter temperatures will pre-stimulate the solar cells [electrons], making them require fewer photons [energy from the sun] to be transferred into them in order to become energized.) Hotter temperatures will, therefore, generate less solar power. The temperatures must be rather extreme for this factor to become an issue.
- The quality and efficiency of the battery you are using for storage
- Power inverter quality (the inverter is a mechanism that converts direct current electricity into alternating current)
Since solar panels can only generate power during daylight hours, they require a battery to store their power for later use. This is the only way they can function solely off-grid.
The only alternative to a battery is to have your solar panel be connected to the power grid. At this time, you will essentially share electricity generated by your panel with the rest of the customers who rely on the power grid and will be credited for it by the power company at a rate that requires a comprehensive appraisal to calculate.
This article mostly deals with the scenario relevant to those who will be running their solar setup from a battery storage generator, entirely independent of the power grid.
What You Need To Know About Running a 12-Volt Fridge From a Solar Panel
Now that we have provided and established a general overview of how solar panels work to generate electricity, as well as a list of the things to consider when attempting to maximize their efficiency, we may now begin to take a closer look at how solar energy can function in specific relation to the powering of a 12-volt refrigerator, and clarify the most important things you need to know.
The good news is that you do not need to be an expert on solar panels, nor do you need to be an electrical engineer to set up a refrigerator unit to run on solar. A rudimentary understanding of a few basic concepts and formulas will be more than sufficient to accomplish the task.
Both solar panels and 12-volt refrigerators come in different shapes, sizes, and wattages. Knowing how to calculate the size of solar panel that is required for powering a particular 12-v refrigerator will have to be formulated in a way that any combination of the two can be definitively deemed adequate or inadequate.
The first thing that we must account for is to keep your food cold and safe to eat, your fridge will need to run 24 hours per day. On the other hand, the solar panel is only able to produce energy during daylight hours, so a battery/generator will be necessary to store and use power during the night.
Most batteries/generators are sold separately from solar panels. Always double-check that you have all the equipment required.
To determine the daily energy requirement for a refrigerator in the form of kWh (kilowatts per hour), we must first look at the specs on the product, which will be presented in the watts’ unit in most cases. Let us assume that our 12-volt fridge is rated at 60-watts and will be powered 24 hours per day.
The formula is as follows:
Wattage x time turned on in hours daily ÷ 1,000 = kWp
To provide an example:
60 x 24 ÷ 1,000 = 1.44 kWp
If the solar-powered battery/generator you are using is rated at 200-watts, provided the charge is full, it will have the capability of providing 4.8 kWp. This is more than enough to power your 12-volt refrigerator 24 hours per day.
RapidTables.com provides a free and easy-to-use calculator for converting watts into kilowatts-per hour. If you are unsure of your numbers, their calculator will immediately provide you the answer you are looking for.
As long as the amount of kWp output from the power source (battery/generator and solar panel) exceeds the fridge’s kWp requirement, you will have enough energy to power it with no problem throughout the day.
However, keep in mind that as discussed in the previous section of this article, many factors will influence your solar panel’s efficiency, and, therefore, a solar panel is never 100% consistent from day to day.
For this reason, you should always try to compensate for fluctuation by having a little bit more wattage available in your panel and generator than you need. If the margin is too small, you may run into unexpected problems, such as an unsunny week that leaves you with an insufficient amount of power.
The price difference between two solar panel units of the same brand and different wattages seems to be relatively small and reasonable for the value you will derive from increased power and reliability.
A Note on Food Safety
Food safety is very important for your health. If your fridge loses power for any meaningful duration of time, and your food thaws and becomes warm, do not consume it if it is not safe to do so. Fruits and, for the most part, vegetables should be okay to consume, but meat and dairy should be discarded immediately and without question.
Eating spoiled food can lead to very serious medical problems, such as E-coli, salmonella, botulism. Some of these ailments can be life-threatening and should be taken very seriously.
The easiest ways to determine if your food has gone bad is by the look of it (it may appear discolored), the smell (rotten, unpleasant odor), or by the texture (slimy, chunky, etc.).
If in doubt, throw it out.
What Size Solar Panel Is Suitable To Run a 12-Volt Fridge?
By this point in our article, we have covered the theory, formula, and all other relevant considerations that go into fitting a 12-volt fridge with a solar panel system. The reader should now be familiar with the basic concepts and will likely possess a general idea about how to set up this system.
At this time, we are now in a position where we may begin to talk about exact sizes, specs, and models of solar panels that are suitable to run your 12-volt refrigerator.
One of the most highly rated (4.5 stars out of 5 based on 1,190 customer ratings at the time of this article) solar panels available on Amazon is the Jackery SolarSaga 60W. Consider now that the average 12-V fridge is rated for around 50-60 Watts. This means a 60-watt solar panel is cutting it too close.
If you are to use a 60W solar panel to power, say, a 55W fridge, there will not be enough excess wattage to simultaneously charge the battery. As soon as the sun goes down and your fridge is forced to rely entirely on the battery-charged generator, your system will fail.
There are an innumerable number of factors to consider when determining the exact size of solar panel required. Furthermore, because the weather is always subject to daily and seasonal changes, which can not possibly be predicted with total accuracy, our only option when sustaining your fridge entirely off-grid is to err heavily on the side of caution.
Were we powering something like an air conditioning unit, we could take our chances on the power going out. Still, when it comes to food storage safety, we must make sure that the refrigerator remains powered at all times.
What we recommend here is to play it safe and go bigger than you think you may need.
A 150-W solar panel, combined with a 200-W battery generator, will be enough to sustain a 12-volt fridge of around 60-W day in and day out, provided nothing catastrophic occurs to inhibit the solar panel from conducting light photons.
Purchasing a second battery will further ensure that you are prepared for the worst.
Keep in mind that all of this assumes that you are completely reliant on this setup for survival over a long duration of time.
If you are only planning to implement this setup to go camping for a few days, or you are simply using it out on the patio for barbecues and social gatherings, the urgency of a perfect and consistently performing system will, of course, be relaxed.
Suppose you are planning to run other appliances off your solar pan, in addition to the 12-v fridge, simultaneously. In that case, you will require a larger solar panel and possibly a larger generator as well. This article assumes that you are only planning to run a single refrigerator off your solar panel/generator and nothing besides.
Whenever buying appliances, it is always important to take your time, understand your needs, and read many reviews from customers based on their experience with the product you are considering.
Never buy cheap refrigerators, batteries, or solar panels.
Understand that these things are an investment and will, over time, pay for themselves and then some if you purchase long-lasting, quality products.
Any experienced solar panel owner will tell you firsthand that the key to satisfaction is longevity. This means always cleaning your solar panel, storing it properly and out of the sun when not in use, and just taking overall good care of it. Proper solar panel maintenance will greatly help to improve the life and vitality of the unit.
Power, regardless of the source, is expensive. Anything you can do to reduce this expense long term, such as investing in solar panels, will make a big difference in your life for the better.
In regards to solar panels, they can be fairly expensive if we are to look only at the sticker price. Keep in mind; a solar panel is providing you with an alternative source of energy, one which, above all else, is renewable.
Think of a solar panel as a long-term investment and not a quick way to earn a dollar. With any solar panel, the idea is to eventually reach the break-even point. At this time, you will have covered the entirety of your initial investment cost and are now making an unfettered profit.
To actually profit on a solar panel, the panel must be sustainable enough to remain in good shape up to and beyond the point at which you have produced enough power from it that it essentially covers its own cost and then becomes a potential source of revenue whether directly or indirectly.
The last thing to note is that as a consumer, it is your duty and responsibility to make sure that you thoroughly read through and ask questions before committing to a product financially. Ensure that all the cords, cables, and connectors you will need to run your solar panel refrigerator setup are included. If not, they will need to be purchased separately. Planning ahead avoids any unexpected surprises upon delivery.
When shopping for a 12-volt refrigerator, the most important factors to look for are:
- The overall size
- The price
- The amount of space inside for storing food
- The temperature rating
- Whether or not it features dual temperature compartments (possibly a freezer)
- Its power consumption
- Its mountability
- The overall quality of the materials, design, and construction
One of the most highly rated 12-volt refrigerators on Amazon is the Whynter FM-45G Portable Refrigerator and for a good reason.
First of all, the Whynter FM-45G has an incredible amount of storage space, and its temperature range is very impressive, to say the least.
This product has a built-in freezer that is capable of reaching temperatures as low as -8°F! This opens a whole new range of food options as it will allow you to freeze meats, vegetables, and fruits to preserve them much longer than would be possible otherwise.
The amount of room to store food in this fridge is rated at 52 cubic feet, far more than most of its competitor products.
The product itself weighs 45 pounds, so transportation and carrying it to and from your vehicle and/or house is not a problem.
This particular fridge is rated at 65-watts, so it is still consistently within the range of our recommended 150-watt solar panel.
All-in-all there are many 12-volt fridges on the market that are great, and this is only one example. The most important thing is how it works with your own specific need, as everyone is different.
Some 12-volt fridges resemble coolers in their shape, while others are modelled to look like the more classical stand-up style kitchen fridge. The choice is optional and entirely personal.
Now onto the solar panel.
Solar panels can be a little bit tougher to select from since the general population seems to have less experience with them, hence less background information. Regardless, reading customer replies is the single most effective way to determine whether the product you are getting is good or not.
Our recommendation for a 150-watt solar panel unit is the Dokio Foldable Solar Kit.
One of the many incredible design features of this product, one of its most impressive by far, is its portability. The panel itself is only 2.4cm thick and is only 22 x 21” when folded up, so it can fit effortlessly into a track, a backseat, or a travel bag. The folded unit also features suitcase-like fabric handles so it can be carried with ease.
Unlike many other solar panels on the market, the Dokio 150-watt is waterproof, which is a very important factor when you consider that most purchasers will have plans to use it for camping, hiking, and other outdoorsy adventures where exposure to the elements is unavoidable.
This solar panel is perfectly suited for powering a 12-volt fridge on the go.
Because it is a fabric panel and not a hard one, it is flexible. This offers the user some versatility in positioning.
Finally, the last thing we need is a battery to store all the energy that we have accumulated during the peak sunlight hours of the day so that we may keep our fridge running strong throughout the night.
The Jackery Portable Power Station is the absolute top of the line in regards to solar generators.
To begin, this portable power generator is built specifically for rough and tough outdoor use. Designed with hikers, campers, fishers, and outdoor thrill-seekers in mind, this thing was built solid.
Another bonus is that the Jackery power station was also made to be used specifically in conjunction with a solar panel, which makes pairing the two quick and easy.
The power pack is rated at 200-watts, and has various outlets for multiple-purpose use. This means it has the versatility, and provided that you have the extra energy to spare, you can power more than just your fridge from this incredible piece of equipment.
In addition to your solar panel, this portable generator also can be charged by way of a car’s outlet or a wall outlet. This can come in handy on days when your panel cannot receive enough power from the sun, and you need to keep your fridge running.
The customer feedback on this product is overwhelmingly positive, so you can have no doubt that you will not be disappointed if you decide to settle on the Jackery power station.