Off-Grid Refrigerator And How To Run One

Jacob Moore

Last updated April 27, 2021

There is always a need to get that chilled drink, especially after completing a tedious activity that has probably taken your whole day.

But just imagine you rushed home after work and humped straight to your fridge only to discover your favorite drink is still as warm as your body temperature.

Was there a power outage?  Oh, no. 

You just remembered an announcement on the radio about a faulty transmission line on your street and your house was affected. Now, you feel like banging the fridge in rage and bursting some bottles.

But, hey. Hold on.  Did you know there were many options you can employ to ensure such a disappointment never reoccurs?

In this article, you would get to see precisely what to do to get your drinks and foods cooled without dependence on the national grid. We have broken down this article into four sections:

  1. Best cooling solution for your food in an emergency.
  2. How can I turn my fridge on without electricity?
  3. What size solar system do I need to run a fridge?
  4. What are alternatives to refrigerators while living off-grid?

Best Cooling Solution For Your Food In An Emergency Situation

in case of emergency

Refrigerators are very helpful, no doubt.

However, in a time when you need to get that fish iced up to prevent decay and find that your refrigerator can’t power up because there has been some power outage, what do you do?

Folks that live off-grid often have a hard time choosing a refrigerator that works for them at all times, and so this necessity can’t be overlooked. You certainly wouldn’t want your food going bad because you couldn’t provide enough power for your fridge.

Simply put, you need an off-grid refrigerator. You also need a perfect one at that. An off-grid refrigerator is a type of fridge that can run without electrical power or uses meager power for its operation.

They are often designed to hold variant power sources, fully responsive cooling methods, deep insulation, and specialized refrigerator-parts.

So, your best bet is to have an off-grid refrigerator at hand at all times. In the past, AC on-grid refrigerators were the only option and required a lot of power to operate.

They, however,  kept our foods and medications cooled to a highly needed temperature so long as there was electricity.

Today, with advances in solar power generation, we have more options than we ever had. Besides, they do the job just fine. To choose the perfect fit of an off-grid refrigerator for your needs, you sure need to consider these factors.

How much power do you intend to allocate for refrigeration?

Suppose there is the availability of a robust solar power system with mega battery storage. In that case, you may have fewer worries because, with such large setups, you can even make do of your regular high-end refrigerator and freezer sets.

It is not the case. You would need to go into the careful calculation of the exact battery and solar panel needs for the amount of refrigeration you would need per day.

To get a better clue, when going shopping for an electrically powered refrigerator, make sure to check out for the EnergyStar symbol or any similar label. You will find beneath their rating the average annual kWh usage displayed boldly. It will give you a better idea of how much power you will need in a month.

How much space do you have available in your home, and what amount of food do you need to keep at lower temperatures?

There are varying sizes of off-grid refrigerators. While some are relatively compact-style, others are way bigger.

How durable, lasting, and easy to maintain are your off-grid refrigerators?

Durability is now a significant measure of what and what not to buy. But how exactly can you be sure? Maybe going for highly advertised ones could help.

Though, that’s not a guarantee. Most goods today aren’t quite as durable as they used to be. Any off-grid refrigerator you select is expected to run consistently 24/7 without issues.

You also want to make sure it is easy to maintain and repair when faulty. You definitely won’t want to have to wait for days or weeks to get a specialist tech officer to fix minor issues on your refrigerator. That would be a no-no.

How financially disposed are you currently?

Do you have a lot of issues with your credit card? Are you saving for a significant annual vacation? Are you planning to move into a new home?

You will need to consider all factors when pricing your off-grid refrigerator, which can range anywhere between $50 for standard cooling options and $3000 for more high-quality solar-powered types. 

How To Run An Off-Grid Fridge?

Stored food in fridge

Keeping your food safe and always cool, your refrigerators need continued access to an uninterrupted power supply.

It may seem impossible to achieve with solar power but keep in mind that with the availability of the proper solar power configuration and well-calculated power requirements, you will be able to plug any refrigerator into solar power.

To effectively set up solar power that will be suitable for your off-grid refrigerator, several devices in addition to your solar panels will indeed be required. 

Very sound batteries are needed to store enough power that your off-grid refrigerator will be using at night when the sun has gone down or when there is an eclipse. 

You will be using a charge controller device that will smoothen the flow of power from your solar panels to your battery. The charge controller is an essential element and cannot be overlooked.

It protects your battery from continuous fluctuations in power caused by the change in solar rays’ intensity. It ensures that your battery always receives the correct voltage and current. 

An inverter is another piece of equipment you will need to convert the direct current (DC) power supplied by your battery to alternating current (AC) power required by your refrigerator.

Do I Need a Solar System To Make It Work?

You will need to consider the average power rate that your off-grid refrigerator will be consuming when you set out to design your solar power configuration.

To determine your refrigerator’s right and actual power requirements, you will need to check the nameplate ratings. They can typically be found somewhere inside of your refrigerator.

The nameplate ratings give you a list of the appliance’s voltage and current needs. For instance, a fridge may read 223 volts and 7.4 amps of current. To calculate the power demand, you will need to multiply the two quantities. It would give you: 223 x 7.4 = 1650.2 watts of power.

Different refrigerators use power in varying ways depending on their operating conditions. If, for instance, there are several already frozen items inside it, it will stay cool for a while longer. It also stays cool for longer if its room temperature is cool. It will not turn on as often as you may expect in this state.

When the air compressor on the refrigerator powers on, it usually uses a surge of energy to triple the average running current. This excessive power draw happens very quickly and is not necessarily a problem, except your solar power system is not robust enough. The refrigerator, however, returns to the average power usage as listed by the nameplate voltage and current.

A conventional solar battery supplies 12 volts of electrical energy for a number of amp-hours. A battery’s capacity is measured by way of amp-hours. The amp-hours depict the number of amperes drawn from a battery within a specific timeframe. 

Ideally, a battery is rated over a 20-hour work cycle. For instance, a 200 amp-hour battery would theoretically provide 10 amps per hour within a  20-hour timeframe. Nearly all solar batteries will usually offer ample current for both the refrigerator and other appliances.

The inverters that convert DC battery power to AC power need to be carefully selected. Most of the ones readily available in the market are inefficient, losing 50 percent of power during the conversion. 

You need to shop for inverters with higher efficiency ratings. Also, you need to assume inverter inefficiency when calculating your refrigerator’s power needs.

Alternative Refrigerators for my Off-Grid Lifestyle

baterry for fridge

We have seen the solar-powered off-grid refrigerators and can seal the following facts about them:

  1. They have an energy efficiency of at least 5 kW monthly to operate unhindered.
  2. They can range in price from a minimum of $1000 to over $2000.
  3. They vary in size; some are compact-styled, while others are large-sized and upright refrigerators.
  4. They are the best option when looking for the most reliable off-grid cooling systems with ample battery storage and continuous sunlight.

Solar refrigerators haven’t been around for so long and are newcomers to the off-grid scenario. However, they’ve come to be the only viable option bringing ever-increasing research on and renovation to solar cells and battery efficiency.

They do not work differently from your traditional refrigerators, but they provide extensively higher efficiency rates through a combination of more robust insulation and more elaborate compressor systems.

You will find both AC and DC solar-powered refrigerators in the electrical and electronics market. Each type of solar system module you install and inverter types you use come with their downsides and benefits.

DC solar systems, for instance, draw their power directly from the battery storage, thereby eliminating the conversion loss that is often associated with using powerful high-end inverters.

Despite this juicy feature of DC refrigerators, they are far more expensive than their AC counterparts which are still averagely rated as costly. AC solar refrigerators use 120/240 volts just like the traditional ones but require powerful, pure sine wave inverters to run them safely.

Considering the high cost of such an inverter, some people try to opt for the modified sine wave inverters. Still, the risk is that you could ultimately render your expensive new refrigerator useless with just a slight error.

Another advantage the AC refrigerator has over the DC is the long list of AC refrigerator types you can decide to choose from in the market. This is not the case with DC refrigerators.

In a nutshell, solar-powered refrigerators are beneficial due to their relatively low power draw on the solar system, their offer of refrigerators and freezers with high efficiency, and their extensive range of sizes available to consumers.

They, however, won’t power up if the sun doesn’t shine, are expensive, difficult to repair, easily affected by environmental temperatures, and may require a pure sine wave inverter for conversion.

Another off-grid cooling option is your thermoelectric refrigerators. They have an energy efficiency of over 2,000 kW per month.

off grid fridge

They are generally cheaper, ranging in price from as low as $50 to $200 but with a compact mini-fridge size. They are best used where very small-scale refrigeration is needed or in already cold climates.

Thermoelectric refrigerators use compressor-less refrigeration and rely on the Peltier effect for their operation with much little power. The main benefits of off-grid thermoelectric refrigerators are their considerable low cost, their durability, and their ability to operate efficiently with minimal energy and within a compact environment.

They are easy to maintain, and since they have no moving parts, they can easily last for centuries if you want. Their downsides, however, are their low cooling and their inability to scale up in size.

They lose their efficiency with an increase in size. That means, once the size is over mini-fridge size, it will use far more power for less cooling, unlike a solar refrigerator.

Propane refrigerators are the last on the list of off-grid refrigerator alternatives with an energy efficiency requiring about 60 to 90 gallons of propane per year of about $120 to $180 on average.

Microscopic models of off-grid propane refrigerators start at $500 in cost and can vary to over $2,000 for more robust models.

They are also available in different sizes and are excellent options when sunlight is significantly insufficient to solar power systems.