Can a solar panel run a camping fridge? Are you thinking about chilling food and drinks camping in your tent? Or your recreational vehicle or trailer? Maybe you want to chill a picnic and wine for a cozy day out in the park. Or is it an afternoon party in the garden? And you don’t want to be bothered by having to constantly go to the kitchen fridge.
Whichever it is, a solar panel can come to the rescue and help you with your portable refrigeration needs. It doesn’t matter if it is chilling champagne for a special outdoor event. Too keeping drinks and food cool for the children on a hot sunny day out at the beach. Because there is nothing worse than warm sandwiches and lemonade, is there?
Can A Solar Panel Run A Camping Fridge?
“Yes you can run a camping fridge with a solar panel and what’s more there are 3 chilling ways to achieve it. 1) Using solar panels fixed to your recreational vehicle or trailer. 2) With a portable solar panel and power station. 3) Using a portable fridge or cooler with a built-in battery and portable solar panel.”
You probably already know but for those readers who don’t know. The 3 methods I am going to outline use a portable solar panel. Portable solar panels are used slightly differently from solar panels you would have fitted on your residence’s roof. In that, they are designed to charge a battery that then powers the camping fridge or cooler.
The three types of battery that can be used to power the camping fridge or cooler are;
- 12V batteries that are installed in an recreational vehicle or trailer
- Portable power stations
- A portable fridge or cooler that has a built-in battery.
Sorry if that seemed a bit tedious. But some people don’t realize that you can’t plug a portable solar panel straight into a camping fridge. Unless it has a built-in rechargeable battery.
1. Using Fixed Solar Panels On A Recreational Vehicle Or Trailer To Run A Camping Fridge
You can use solar panels as an electricity source to cool food and drinks in your RV or trailer. But there are a few things you need to keep in mind when considering doing this. Like it’s going to be pretty expensive to install such a system. This is because a refrigerator requires power 24/7 and solar panels do not collect sunlight at night. This means the fridge will draw lots of stored charge from your house batteries. But there will be no charge going in to replace the used charge during darkness.
I know this seems pretty obvious but you might not realize how much of an impact this will have on the system. You can find out more about this in my article: Can a 100-watt solar panel run a refrigerator? I will try and not to be too ‘techie’ with my explanation because I don’t want to bore you to death.
The impact on your recreational vehicle’s solar system.
It is better to use a 12V compressor DC fridge designed for an RV or boat rather than a domestic one. Because they are better insulated and are constructed for the rigors of the road or sea. Using this kind of refrigerator will negate the need for an AC inverter.
5 hours of full sunlight per day.
3.2 C/F front loading 12V DC compressor fridge/freezer.
A 12-volt house battery system
The maths bit
To work out the number of watt-hours required to run the fridge over a 24 hour period you need to multiply;
54w (fridge) x 24hrs (hours in a day) = 1296Wh (watt-hours per day). Batteries should not be depleted below 50%. This means that you have to multiply the number of daily watt-hours (1296) by 2 equaling 2592Wh
To now work out the number of amp-hours required you need to divide;
2592Wh (total watt-hours) by 12V (house battery system) equals 216 amp-hours per day.
That is quite a hefty usage of house battery charge, So to accomplish this goal 2 x 100Ah batteries are not going to do the job
How much solar power will be required
Using the same assumptions and the amp hour per day requirement of 216Ah. You need to divide the total number of watt-hours per day (2592). By the solar panel wattage multiplied by the number of sun hours in a day (5).
A 200w solar panel; 2592Wh divided by (200w x 5hrs = 1000Wh) equals 2.5 200w solar panels
A 150w solar panel; 2592Wh divided by (150w x 5hrs = 750Wh) equals 3.46 150w solar panels
A 100w solar panel; 2592Wh divided by (100w x 5hrs = 500Wh) equals 5.18 100w solar panels
And remember this is just to power the fridge, never mind watching some TV or running some air conditioning. And 12v DC compressor fridges don’t come cheap. The one I used in the example math for instance. The Norcold N1090BR RV Electric Thin Refrigerator Freezer is $1600 at the time of writing. So if you are on a tight budget you may have to look at less expensive cooling alternatives.
2. Powering A Camping Fridge With A Portable Solar Panel And Power Station
Keeping food and drinks cool when camping with a tent or small van can be difficult when you are off grid. A portable electric camping cooler is an ideal way to solve this problem. This is because you can plug it into your vehicle’s cigarette port to provide electricity to power it. But this can quickly deplete your vehicle’s battery which isn’t great out in the wilderness.
There is a solution to this using portable solar panels and a power station. This solution not only has the advantage of providing you with much-needed refrigeration. It can also allow you to charge your portable electronics such as laptops and phones. Power lighting for the camp or if your system is large enough watch some TV.
What is a portable power station?
A portable power station is a battery that has a solar controller and inverter built-in. They come in various output power sizes from 100wh to 3000wh plus models. And have various output ports including AC, USB, DC, and cigarette lighter. A carry handle finishes them off for easy portability. Meaning you can take them anywhere and they will provide you with electrical power.
Using a 12V electrical camping cooler with them is really easy. You connect the cooler to the power station with one cable via the cigarette lighter output port. Or if the cooler is equipped with AC capabilities, plug it into that port.
How long will a portable power station power a cooler
It’s back to a little bit of math to work that out. For instance the AstroAI Electric 26 Quarts/ 24 Liter,12V DC Portable Thermoelectric 52w cooler. Needs to be multiplied by the amount of time it is used. 52w (cooler wattage) x 1hr (usage time) = 52wh.
A list of watt-hours of the cooler and the size of portable power station required is given below. Remember that you do not want to deplete the power station by more than 50%. This means the power station watt-hours need to be multiplied by 2.
I know you are thinking. The portable solar panels are charging at the same time as powering the camping cooler. So there is a charge going into the station but caution needs to be taken. Because you may want to use the station for other power requirements at the same time.
|Hours||52w Cooler x Hours = Cooler Watt Hours||Cooler Watt-Hours x 2 = Power Station Watt Hours|
3. Running A Portable Camping Fridge With A Built In Battery And Portable Solar Panel
Running a camping fridge with a built-in battery that can be charged with solar panels is a great alternative. Rather than using vehicle house batteries or a power station, this method won’t impact a solar setup. Meaning you can power or charge other devices without having to worry about system battery depletion.
For instance, the AcoPower LionCooler camping fridge range employs a compressor to provide refrigeration. This means it can freeze as well as cool, great on a hot sunny day. The built-in battery will allow 3 ways to charge.
- Portable solar panels
- AC mains outletVehicle
- Cigarette port
The built-in battery can be charged in 4-6 hours and can operate for 10 hours at – 4°F and upto 15 hours at 0℃/32℉. They have a removable battery and a second one can be purchased so as to extend running time.
What do I mean by that? If both batteries are fully charged prior to use. Once one is depleted it can be replaced by the 2nd fully charged one. And while that one is in use the first one can be recharged by the portable solar panel or vehicle cigarette port. This means if the LionCooler is set at 0℃/32℉ 24 hour refrigeration is possible.
My Closing Thoughts
Whichever way you choose to provide cooling for your food and drinks while camping there is a method to use portable solar panels. Using recreational vehicle solar panels and a power station and solar panels will be expensive.
But using something like the LionCooler with a built-in battery and portable solar panels is less expensive. Especially for 24-hour use which is something you are probably looking for. Although changing batteries over might feel like a pain in the neck. It will be worth it for a cold soda or beer in the afternoon and cold milk in the morning.
I hope you enjoyed my post and have found it helpful. If you have any questions about running a camping fridge with portable solar panels. Or want to leave your own personal thoughts, please feel free to leave a comment below