When I decided to go off grid, I knew that I was not going to ditch a fridge. I had to come up with a long-term option for my lifestyle that would feel comfortable. Lucky for us, fridge technology has come a long way in making it that much easier for those of us off grid to be able to use one.
An off grid fridge is a refrigeration system that works with little or no electricity. Depending on your household needs, there are several off grid fridge options to choose from, including; solar, propane, converted chest freezers and more.
There is no single best off grid solution for all, because it really depends on your specific needs. Solar, propane or no-power options all depend on how much food and the types of foods you need to keep cold.
If you’re living in the tropics and have year-round warm and humid weather (like us in Hawai’i), then that is a factor to keep in mind, as well.
Can a Fridge Run on Solar Power?
A fridge can run on solar power.
But, the question actually should be either do you want a solar-powered fridge, or a regular fridge, that runs off of a solar panel? These are not the same thing.
Let’s start with the solar-powered fridge.
Solar Powered Refrigerator
This is a refrigerator that is specifically designed only for solar-power use. It works by drawing power directly from stored solar power.
These fridges are expensive, but can be a good investment if you use solar power for your home already, get plenty of regular sunshine and already have a set-up for solar panels.
Some specific brands of solar fridges include Sundanzer and Sunfrost, which I will get to later on.
A (regular) Refrigerator Run on Solar Power
For me, it made more sense to get a regular, high-efficiency refrigerator and run it off solar. I had to get an additional solar panel, but it was the best option for my off grid home. I’m really happy with this set-up and will share more about the type of fridge I use, below.
It’s important to choose an energy-efficient fridge that uses the smallest amount of watts for your needs.
If you have a family you might need a bigger fridge, but think minimalistic here: if your home has two individuals, then opt for a small fridge and keep fresh fruits and veggies out at room temperature, if you can.
A Quick Word On AC &DC Power Supplies
Something to keep in mind for refrigerators running off solar is the type of electricity your fridge uses. (AC/DC = AC alternative current / DC direct current).
Depending on the refrigerator you choose, you may need an inverter to change the current to work with your system and power-storage batteries.
Most solar-powered refrigerators are DC, and some can work directly with your storage batteries (like the SunDanzer ones, mentioned below). But, they are more expensive, so you’ll need to commit to an initial investment.
Long-term, you might save money by avoiding adding an inverter and additional items that you would have to purchase if you choose an AC refrigerator.
AC refrigerators, on the other hand, are still a good option if you already use an inverter for other items in your home. AC refrigerators are more common, so maintenance and parts are easier (and less expensive) to come by.
You might lose some energy during the conversion with the inverter, so if you are calculating energy consumption, you should factor that in.
If you’re using solar power – you should be calculating energy consumption!
How Many Solar Panels Do I need To Run A Fridge
The short answer is: one or more solar panels are needed to run a refrigerator.
The much longer answer gets into wattage and energy calculations, solar panel capacity, and that answer is: it depends.
It depends on the wattage of your fridge, and the capability of your solar panels. Are we talking 100-watt solar panels or 300-watt solar panels?
And, are those panels powering any other appliances in your home?
This is why I suggest getting the smallest, most efficient fridge to suit your household. If you can get an energy-efficient fridge that runs off continual wattage of less than 200 watts, then you might be good with adding one solar panel.
Now, if you don’t want to change your refrigerator and want to purchase an inverter and more solar panels, then you will need to calculate the wattage of your fridge. If it is not energy efficient and an older model, you could be looking at anywhere from 500 to 800 watts, which means you might need to add four more solar panels (plus that inverter).
In the end, it’s unlikely that you’ll really save money by keeping your current fridge unless it is energy efficient.
Now, if you could start shopping for solar fridges, or you calculate how much it would really cost to add a single solar panel and purchase a new refrigerator that is energy efficient. If you’re like me, this may be the easiest and most affordable solution.
How Long Will Deep Cycle Batteries Power A Fridge Through the Night?
There are lots of variables to consider here: the type of battery and its capacity, as well as your fridge.
Your solar set up should use batteries to store energy for nighttime or rainy, no-sun periods. These deep cycle batteries will keep your appliances, including your fridge, running just fine even if you don’t have any sun for a few hours or longer.
A deep cell battery with a 100ah capacity will run most energy-efficient fridges just fine for 8 hours or more. If you have a regular refrigerator that uses more than 200 running watts, then you should consider a larger capacity deep cell battery.
For small fridges, or energy-efficient ones that use less than 80 watts once the fridge is up and running, you could easily go 12 -15 hours on a 100ah battery without a hitch.
Remember, calculate energy usage based on running watts, not starting watts, for overnight use. Also, through the night you probably won’t be using your fridge, so it’s safe to assume that with the door closed it could run on less energy.
If you’re wondering about the life expectancy of the battery itself, most lead acid batteries can run for 5 or 6 years, while lithium batteries can even go up to 15 years before you need to replace them.
Make sure you’re taking proper care of your batteries and allowing them to fully charge and not over-draining them during use.
Different Types Of Off Grid Fridges
This is the original off grid option for fridges and has been around for decades. Propane fridges are favored because they use fuel, not electricity, to run. The propane burns, creates a chemical reaction and the result keeps the fridge cold. As long as there is propane, this fridge will stay cold.
There are several drawbacks of this option: first, you need to have consistent propane, which can be costly. And, let’s face it: ammonia, fumes and carbon monoxide can be dangerous. You should set this fridge up with plenty of ventilation and ensure all safety protocols are strictly followed.
Magic Chef Energy Efficient Fridge
I decided this was the best option for me. I purchased this Magic Chef fridge and it has been the ideal solution for my home.
It uses about 60 watts per hour. It was between buying a new Sundanzer Chest Freezer for almost $2000 or get this fridge for $400, an extra 300 watt solar panel for $200, and 2 new batteries that expand my system overall by another $600.
Now that may not sound cheap, but it was still cheaper than a Sundanzer and I donʻt have to go digging for food in a chest freezer and if this fridge breaks, I can replace it for $400 instead of $2000.
Remember, you may need to also get an inverter if you have a fridge that uses AC power.
Look at the ‘Energy Star Rating’ on appliances, and calculate estimated wattage.
Normally an energy star rating will give the kWh that an appliance uses over a year. Just divide that number by 365, then again by 1000 (there are 1000 watts in a kWh) and you know your applianceʻs running wattage.
You may decide that your needs are minimal and that a tiny, energy-efficient fridge will work for your home.
More about this below, but this company makes the most energy efficient fridges and freezers on the market. They are designed to work with sustainable energy, including solar power or other means. They are convenient, but expensive.
The SunDanzer company specializes in making items that work off grid. Yes, their products are expensive, but they are high-quality and ideal for solar power.
They specialize in the chest style freezers that work on DC power. I had one for over 15 years, it worked great until one day it conked out on me.
What I did not like about them was that they constantly needed to be mopped up in the bottom and it could sometimes be hard to find what you are looking for with food stacked on top of each other.
They also cost a lot. For many of these reasons I chose to go with the Magic Chef Fridge instead. I just didnʻt want to have to deal with the hassle again, especially if I had to pay top dollar for it.
Other Off Grid Fridge Ideas
If you’ve heard of the Zeer Pot, then you may be interested in making your own version of this interesting cooler. It just requires wet sand and two clay pots. A great concept, but I find it doesn’t work well in the humid climate of Hawai’i.
Another option is to go old school: just use a cooler. This is the simplest method, requiring, at the bare minimum, a foam box and some ice. Keep ice in double-layered plastic bags and purchase new ice a few times a week to keep it cold.
If you don’t eat meat or dairy, and have only a few items to keep cold, then it could be a temporary solution while you figure out what type of permanent fridge is best for you.
Another idea is to convert a chest freezer into a fridge. Get a temperature controller and connect it to the freezer. The temperature controller prevents your freezer from getting cold enough to deep freeze, and automatically turning off or on the power for you, to help conserve energy.
Also, chest freezers are already pretty good in terms of energy consumption, making them ideal for working with storage batteries and solar.
This is a popular option, allowing you to have control without making a big purchase as regular chest freezers are pretty affordable and have excellent insulation.
|Propane Fridge||Propane as Fuel||$$||Purchase propane regularly|
Strict safety protocols
|Energy Efficient Fridge||Electricity to powerCan use solar||$- $$||Very convenientEasy to maintain|
|Sundanzer||Use Solar||$$$||Very convenientMaintenance is not easy|
|Sun Frost||Use Solar||$$$||Very convenientMaintenance is not easy|
|Cooler||No energy needed||$||Purchase ice regularly|
|Zeer Pot||No energy needed||$||Make your own|
Doesn’t work well in humid climates
|Chest Freezer with temperature control||Electricity to powerCan use solar||$$||Purchase temperature controllerEasy to maintain|
What is the Most Energy Efficient Fridge for Solar Power?
Sun Frost is a US company that makes the most energy-efficient refrigerators in the world. Their products are made in the USA. These refrigerators are designed to work with sustainable forms of power, including solar, wind and hydro power. They have models designed for both AC and DC power.
Sun Frost fridges are so efficient, they can use as little as 15 kilowatts a month (compare that to over 100 kwh per month with some other models!).
While the fridges themselves are on the expensive side, because they are so efficient you may not even need to add any additional solar panels and in the end, will save you both money and hassle.
My Favorite Fridge For Off Grid Solar Systems
As previously mentioned, after thorough research I came to the decision that a highly-efficient fridge was the best bet for me, instead of a specifically-designed solar fridge.
I calculated wattage and energy consumption for my solar setup. I also considered if I could easily get a maintenance person to fix an expensive solar fridge if needed. Finally, I decided that adding another solar panel and a great, regular fridge was my best option.
That’s why I picked the Magic Chef 10.1 cubic foot refrigerator. It is a combined fridge-and-freezer (eliminating the need to consider a freezer, too), and uses less than 300 kwh per year.
It’s a regular refrigerator, so I know that I can get it fixed if there are any maintenance issues, takes up minimal space and runs on very little power. It was easy to set up with my solar-charged battery and use with one additional solar panel.
I’ve been using this fridge for 5 years now, with no issues. That’s my ideal for functionality with off grid living; appliances that work with sustainable energy, without hassle.
All in all, choose an off grid fridge that works best for you. Think long-term, sustainable options that you are going to be comfortable with for years ahead.
That might be a traditional propane fridge, or a newly designed solar fridge. If you’re like me, it might be something in the middle, such as an energy-efficient fridge that works with your solar panels and batteries to work smoothly and efficiently.