Solar Panels Running a Fridge (12 volts +)

Do you need to know if you can run a 12volt fridge using a solar panel? The simple answer is yes, you can.

However, there are a few tricks to making this work. The method you use depends on how you plan to use the fridge.

For example, if you plan to make this a permanent setup, the process is slightly different from if you need to power the fridge off-grid for a day or two.

What’s important is that either way, there is a safe method to keep the fridge running, the food cold and safe, and everyone happy. 

If you are looking for a way to have greater energy independence and want to power your fridge by using a solar panel, you are in luck.

Inside, we go over how to power a 12volt fridge with a solar panel. We also toss in a few essential extras that will keep your food-safe and electrical safe too. 

Inside, we discuss:

  • If you can run a 12volt fridge using a solar panel
  • How to determine the number of watts and number of solar panels you need to run a solar fridge
  • Why a solar battery backup is essential for using solar power to run a 12volt fridge. 
  • We’ve tucked in a few more essential tips and tricks to help you. 
Fridge And Solar Panel
Fridge And Solar Panel

What Size Solar Panel Do I Need to Run A 12V Fridge?

A 150-watt solar panel will power a 12volt fridge. You will need to plan through what to do about running the fridge when the sun is not shining. That can include during dusk, nighttime, and cloudy days when the array produces less energy? Your solutions may include:

  • Doing nothing, which can lead to loss of food and food safety issues. 
  • Employing a small solar battery that will store 300-500 watts of energy.
  • Remain grid-tied

The best solution here is to use solar batteries to store excess energy from the solar panel when the array is not producing power.

If you add a solar battery storage system, you need to bump up the solar panel to about 300 watts. Most home solar panels range from around 250 watts to close to 400 watts. So, a single panel could power the fridge. 

Will A Solar Panel Run A 12V Fridge?

Yes, you can run a 12volt fridge using a solar panel. However, the process is very specific, as not all solar panels will work in this situation.

Much will depend on what the fridge needs in terms of amp-hours (A/H). An amp-hour is one amp per hour.

The solar panel would need to provide that amount of energy every hour. Since that is not possible, you need to connect the solar panel to a solar battery that could hold 100 A/h of energy. A 150-watt panel with eight hours of sunlight could handle that. 

Another way to look at this is to look at the kWh that the fridge uses. For example, if the fridge requires 3kWh per day to run, you need solar panels to produce 3,000 watts per day.

If each solar panel produces 250 watts per direct hour of sunlight, and you had an average of 4 hours of direct sunlight per day, the solar panel would produce 1,000 watts or 1kWh per day.

For that scenario, you would need three 250 watt solar panels to produce 3kWh of energy. You would also need a battery if you wanted the fridge to run 24-hours per day. 

Will A 100 Watt Solar Panel Run A 12V Refrigerator?

The answer to this question comes down to the refrigerator and how many kilowatt-hours (kWh) it requires.

It would be challenging to get 12volts out of a 100-watt solar panel. However, if the solar panel received five hours of sunlight per day, it would produce 500-watts of energy per day.

Depending on how many kWh the fridge required, it could be possible, but it would likely be a tiny fridge.

As in the example above, if the fridge needed 3kWhs of energy per day, you would divide 3,000 watts by the average number of watts the panel produces.

In this case, with five hours of direct sunlight, the panel produces 500 watts. You would need six 100-watt solar panels to meet that need and five hours of direct sunlight for each of those panels. 

Can I Run A Fridge Off A Solar Panel?

If you are wondering if you can run a fridge off a solar panel, the answer is yes. However, not every solar panel will work.

The process also depends on your goals. For example, if you need the fridge to run every hour of the day for every day of the year, you will need more than one solar panel plus a battery storage system and a solar controller to protect the batteries. 

If you want to run the fridge now and then, you would most likely need several solar panels, and if the fridge is AC and not DC, you would need an inverter.

To figure out how many solar panels you need, you would:

  1. Determine the maxim electricity needs of the fridge — in watts or kilowatt-hours. A kilowatt-hour is 1000 watts. 
  2. Need to know how many watts the solar panel produces per one hour of direct sunlight. 
  3. Need to know how many hours of sunlight the solar panel would receive each day. 

Multiply the number of total sunlight hours per day by the number of watts the solar panel can produce.

For example, five hours of direct sunlight for a solar panel that processes 300 watts per direct hour of sunlight would mean that the solar panel can produce 5×300 or 1,500 watts of electricity per day.

If the fridge requires 3 kWh of energy in 24 hours, you would divide the number of kWh as watts which are 3,000, by 1,500, and figure out that your project would require two 300-watt solar panels and a solar battery.

It is an excellent and tidy way to look at this, but you would likely need to produce more energy than 3,000 watts per day in the real world. You would need to account for issues such as:

  • Shading
  • Storms
  • Environmental factors, such as heat. 
  • And a few other issues that can be common obstacles for solar panel energy production. 

Generally, you want to have more energy than you need. Yes, there is such a thing as energy opportunity, which happens when your solar panel produces more energy than your home needs, and there is no place to store it.

For example, if you need 3,000 watts of energy per day, aim to create 3,500 watts of energy.

Unfortunately, issues like shading or weather can mean that the actual hours of direct sunlight that the solar panel receives decline, leaving a situation where the fridge will not run.

Solar power batteries can help with that problem. However, it is better to have a bit of wasted energy than not enough. 


How-To Solar Panel FAQ

How do you set up a solar panel?

When it comes to solar panel installation, there are several ways of doing it. You can do it yourself or hire a contractor to do the installation for you. Solar panels can be mounted on your roof with a specialized mounting system, or on the floor with a safe, specially-made rack.

Some users even have mechanized solar mounting systems, where their solar panels are on a motorized stand that slowly follows the sun as it moves through the sky.

Can you install solar panels yourself?

Definitely! Of course, this depends on the complexity of your setup, though. If you are setting up a relatively low-power, smaller solar system, DIY is certainly an option. If you’re setting up a larger, grid-tied system of over several thousand watts, the installation can become somewhat complex, and it may be a better option to bring in a professional. 

The biggest hurdle is the wiring, especially in a grid-tied, high-power system. Dealing with electrical connections can be dangerous, and any short circuits can quickly cause fires, so it’s important to know what you’re doing or get a qualified electrician to help you.

How to clean solar panels?

To maximize efficiency, it’s helpful to clean your panels regularly. Dust and grime collect up quickly on these large surfaces, reducing the panel’s ability to harness the sun's power. 

You’ll need to wipe them down gently with a cloth or even a soft broom every few months and a mild soap and water solution, especially during periods with little rain. A good clean once every six months is plenty if you live in an area with regular rain.

How to connect solar panels?

Most of the time, solar panels must be connected in parallel to keep the voltage consistent. This simply involves connecting all the positive terminals and all the negative terminals.

Connecting your panels in series will boost the voltage, which you’ll only need to do if you’re trying to meet the voltage requirements of your inverter or batteries.

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