Last updated on July 25th, 2023 at 08:11 am
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When it comes to off-grid camping, knowing how many solar panels you need to power a refrigerator is key. This doesn’t even include all of your other appliances and electric needs- there’s a lot to consider!
So, how many solar panels do you need to power a refrigerator?
The number of solar panels needed to power a refrigerator will vary depending on the specific energy requirements of the RV refrigerator you’re using. Typically, an average RV refrigerator will need a minimum of two solar panels, with a total of around 600W, along with a 12V system and batteries to store collected solar energy.
Solar energy is a fantastic option to go for, especially if you’re planning to complete some boondocking on your RV vacation. It can, however, be a bit tricky to work out exactly what solar setup you need to have to power everything inside the RV. Before we delve into types of RV refrigerators and more, let’s take a closer look at what it means to have a solar-powered electrical setup in your RV.
How Many Solar Panels Do I Need To Power A Refrigerator?
The addition of a refrigerator and/or a freezer in an RV is a life-changer, especially when summer circles back around and temperatures start to get steamy! Sure, refrigerators and freezers keep drinks cold, and ice pops frozen, but they also keep food fresher for longer, which is better for our wallets and our bellies!
If you’re asking yourself, how many solar panels do I need to power my refrigerator, don’t worry, it’s not too tricky to get to a final answer! Every electrical appliance and device in your RV will have a certain needed power for it to operate, and refrigerators are no different.
Once you’ve taken a close look at your fridge and have worked out the power it needs to run, you can calculate how many solar panels are required to produce that amount of power. I also think it’s beneficial to calculate your overall average energy usage across your entire RV, as then you can be sure to purchase enough solar panels to support your RV refrigerator and other electrical items in your camper.
How Does Solar Power Work In An RV?
Solar power is much more complicated than you may initially think, especially in an RV setting. However, with some understanding of how much power you use in your RV on an average day, you’ll be well on your way to understanding solar power when camping! Solar power only works in an RV with the addition of a battery or two onboard your rig.
Having an inverter and converter are also usually necessary for powering your rig with solar power. The solar panels get charged when your RV is parked in a sunny spot, and the energy gets stored in the RV batteries, which is why having a reliable battery made for boondocking is always a good idea. It’s necessary to know how much power you use on an average day spent in your RV before you purchase solar panels, and this includes passive energy usage like your refrigerator.
You’ll most likely purchase too few solar panels if you don’t know this number first. I find it useful to budget my energy usage based on an appliance’s startup wattage as opposed to its running wattage. This is because the startup amount is always higher than the running amount, so I’m covered either way! It’s also important to keep in mind that solar panels usually work at a more limited capacity if they are kept in the shade or in cloudy weather.
This is why purchasing portable solar panels rather than roof-mounted options can suit many campers better. Many newer RVs come equipped with solar energy these days or are at least prewired for solar panels. This may be a perk to many RVers, especially those hoping to power their refrigerator.
Types Of RV Refrigerators Able To Run On Solar Power
Given solar is a new and innovative way of powering RVs, you may be wondering what types of refrigerators run on solar power. Here’s a list of some potential options to consider.
12 Volt Refrigerator
A 12-volt refrigerator is one of the most common types of refrigerators used in conjunction with a solar panel setup. You may be familiar with 12V power if you own a multimeter (a must for any RVer). These fridges run on 12V power, also known as battery power- it’s essentially a simpler energy source found in your RV not every appliance is capable of running on.
This is what makes 12V refrigerators valuable in an RV. They can run off the grid with ease, using a battery’s power and therefore needing far fewer amps than a traditional 110V fridge. This lower amperage usage appeals to many boondockers, as it means fewer solar panels are needed overall. This can be especially valuable if you have a few higher-amperage appliances or electronics.
12V fridges are also common in RVs- they are sometimes paired with propane capabilities, which means you get two fuel sources in one appliance. Make sure you have an up-to-date propane regulator in your rig before you try out the propane style of any two-way fridge.
110 Volt Refrigerator
Also known as residential fridges, 110V refrigerators are more common in newer RVs these days, given their familiarity and simplicity in terms of their moving parts and abilities. These fridges are usually found in our own homes and can be activated by simply plugging them in. How might this work in an RV setting, especially an off-grid setting, you ask? You’ll need to have a converter installed in your RV. But more on that later.
A 110V refrigerator is often larger, with a separate freezer compartment, making it a perfect RV appliance for those of you full-timing or hosting your family of five. Nothing wrong with more space in an RV! 110V refrigerators are also useful in that they are less expensive to replace. Even getting a specialty-size fridge to fit in your existing fridge location can be cheaper than purchasing a 12V or propane fridge.
However, the price may end up higher than you expect if you are hoping to run this style of fridge on solar panels. These fridges are used to running on shore power, or a standard outlet. This usually results in a higher amperage draw than 12V fridges, which can mean that you need far more solar panels than you expect. You will also need a reliable inverter and converter to make this fridge work off-grid.
Portable refrigerators are also a 12V style of fridge, but you may like these options more, as they are made for a family on the go! This style of fridge comes with a cigarette charger-style power cord or a 12V cord. They may also be outfitted with a more traditional 110V power cord, but that’s obviously not what these portable beauties are designed for.
You can bring portable refrigerators wherever you like, and you can even hook up some solar panels to them directly. This is why portable refrigerators are ideal for solar power. However, many of these fridges are not designed to fit where your existing RV fridge is, as they are often designed like ice coolers or ice chests. The lid is located on the top of the fridge rather than the front.
These fridges aren’t made to be permanently installed anywhere- which can be a real perk! They can go with you on a boat or dry camping; they can also operate at odd angles and are usually durable appliances.
This option likely won’t suit every boondocker, given their limited capacity and inability to be installed where an existing RV fridge might be. They can also be expensive, but they have a low amperage draw and may suit an adventurous couple RVing in a smaller rig!
What Do I Need To Power My RV Refrigerator With Solar Power?
Solar power is a brilliant way to harness the sun’s energy, and it’s great for the future of our planet too! Now, we’ve already discussed some things you might need to power your RV fridge with solar power: a battery, an inverter, and perhaps even a converter. But what are these things specifically, and why do they matter with solar panels in mind?
Have a quick breakdown of RV solar power by watching the short video below:
As shown in the video, there’s a lot to think about when installing solar on your RV! But purchasing all of the necessary components means happy camping in the future, along with a refrigerator powered by the correct number of solar panels!
A key component to running your RV refrigerator is a solar panel. Depending on your energy usage, you may need one, two, three, or even more solar panels on your RV. Solar panels tend to be mounted to an RV roof, however, it’s possible to purchase portable ones if you’re not wanting anything permanent on your roof.
It’s wise to get to know the electrical setup of your RV, as you never know when you may encounter issues and need to get up close and personal with your electrics. Be sure to read any manuals, talk to manufacturers, and get clued up on your system, how it functions best, and how to maintain it optimally.
A converter is an important piece of machinery in a boondocker’s RV. These are different from catalytic converters (which are often targeted in theft in RVs). A converter is designed to convert 110V or shore power into battery power- it’s designed to maintain your batteries when you’re plugged in and connected, which may not seem necessary to every boondocker or dry camper.
You may be wondering if a converter is necessary when it comes down to installing solar panels to power your refrigerator. In a way, solar panels are like your RV’s converter- they are designed to charge and maintain your batteries. However, converters are installed in every RV (you can learn about our top converter picks here).
They will work and charge your batteries as well as power your 12V appliances should your solar panels ever fail, especially on a cloudy day. Some inverters have hybrid capabilities, where they can invert and convert power accordingly. But what exactly is an inverter?
An inverter is a necessity if you are planning on safely installing solar panels to power your refrigerator, especially if you only have a 110V fridge on board your RV. An inverter is similar to a converter in that it changes the way certain power is directed. An inverter can change battery power into power for 110V appliances and larger-scale electronics.
This is invaluable to anyone planning to dry camp or boondock. This is how you will utilize your solar panels throughout your RV, and how you also exchange energy from a generator. Many RVs don’t have inverters- though most modern choices do. You should keep this in mind and always ask an RV professional whether or not your current rig has a reliable and up-to-date inverter on board.
Again, you’ll be unable to power your 110V refrigerator on solar panels without an inverter able to change battery power into power for the entirety of your RV. Take the time to learn how your inverter works, and make sure yours is up to date and operating properly!
You’ll also be unable to power your refrigerator on solar panels without batteries. Why is this? Because solar panels simply gather solar energy- the energy is then stored in reliable and powerful batteries. There are many different types of RV batteries, some of which are more expensive than others.
Usually, though, the more you’re able to spend on batteries lends to better results while boondocking (you may still need a generator to power your RV AC). You will also most likely need more than one battery to run your RV fridge or other appliances entirely from solar power. This is because batteries can only store so much electricity or energy in one unit; you may need multiple units to power your RV on a given day.
Batteries can only supply so much power without needing recharging, especially if you’re running an RV on battery power exclusively. While solar panels are consistently recharging the batteries, you may still overload them with appliances. This is why it’s so important to know how many watts or amps you are using on an average day inside your RV.
Simple Maintenance Knowledge
It’s crucial to at least try and keep your batteries from getting too low. If you have a shady or rainy day, know your batteries will not be replenished as quickly by your solar panels! Their rated amp hours will be drastically diminished, especially if you are trying to stay over 50% of your battery’s capacity as recommended by most manufacturers.
Again, you never want your batteries to get too low, and this can be tricky when you are first installing your solar panels. Diminishing your battery’s capacity can shorten its overall lifespan; you don’t want to do this if you have spent over $1,000 on batteries! Having some simple maintenance knowledge and knowing how to best look after the batteries and electrical system in your RV will lead to time and money saved in the future.
While it takes some learning, you will no doubt get the hang of your solar panels and RV electric system in time. When in doubt, you can always purchase a generator for your 50-amp RV!
RV Solar Power Refrigerator FAQs
Do have more questions regarding how many solar panels you might need to power an RV refrigerator? Let’s take a look at some frequently asked questions now!
Can A 100 Watt Solar Panel Run A Refrigerator?
The most likely answer to this question is no. You’ll need more than 100W of solar power to run a refrigerator, especially for an entire camping trip. Many RV fridges require more power than that to start up, let alone run for a few days. You need to know how many watts your refrigerator uses in order to run, both at start-up and throughout the day.
While every fridge is different, the average fridge needs 400-700W upon starting up, and around 100-300W to stay cold. You can always purchase multiple 100W solar panels and link them together, with a large-capacity battery attached! However, a single 100W panel is less likely to power a refrigerator all on its own.
Can A 400 Watt Solar Panel Run A Refrigerator?
A 400W solar panel may be able to run a refrigerator. Again, however, it all depends on the type of fridge you have. Most 12V options should run off a single 400W solar panel- but only the fridge, nothing else. Given a startup wattage range of 400-700W, a single 400W panel may still not be enough to power your fridge.
And again, this size of panel typically won’t work for any other appliances, especially over a longer trip. While your batteries will ultimately determine the energy supply to your RV fridge, the replenishment of these batteries should happen in a timely fashion. That’s why having more solar panels is always better than fewer.
Where Can I Buy Solar Panels?
You may be able to have your new RV fitted with solar (especially some of these luxury travel trailers), particularly if it’s prewired for solar panels on the roof. It may cost a little from an RV manufacturer, but this way at least you know it’s been done properly and you have substantial power. However, there are many solar kits available for purchase, either at specialty stores or online.
You should know everything you need before you begin shopping, such as batteries, inverters, and converters. This is because many websites offer bundles or solar kits and you may find a better deal on solar panels this way! However, always make sure you have your ideal wattage in mind before making your final purchase.
Can I Run My Residential Fridge On Solar Power?
You can run a residential fridge on solar power. These types of fridges run off 110V electricity, meaning you’ll need an inverter in order to invert your battery power into more standard shore power. Your residential fridge will also use more watts than a smaller 12V fridge.
You should keep this in mind, especially if you only have a limited amount of solar panels and wattage. The average small residential fridge generally needs at least 200W to stay powered up and run efficiently.
Does An RV Freezer Use More Solar Power?
Depending on the size, make, and model, an RV freezer can use more solar power than an RV fridge. However, unless you have a stand-alone chest freezer (which can be useful if you are planning on grilling up burgers on your new RV propane grill), this may not be the case.
The average freezer needs between 100-300W in order to run, but these are usually very large freezers. Many RV fridges have freezers inside the main compartment or have a separate freezer door. No matter what, this freezer portion is included in your overall fridge wattage consumption. So there’s no real way of telling if an RV freezer uses more solar power as opposed to the fridge!
How Much Do RV Solar Panels Cost?
RV solar panels range in price, depending on the wattage, quality, and overall capabilities. Purchasing a bundled set of RV solar panels is often less expensive than purchasing separate panels and batteries. Depending on what you end up purchasing, RV solar panels can cost anywhere from $500 to over $5,000.
This of course depends on how many panels you need to power your appliances, your existing RV batteries, and the state of your RV’s inverter. However, these bundles may not suit your needs. When you consider an RV solar panel is far more than just panels (you’ll need an inverter and batteries, perhaps a converter), the price does continue to climb.
That’s why it’s vital to know how much electricity you need as opposed to how much you want. If you are on a budget, you may not need an extra panel or two like you thought you did!
Understanding your RV’s solar power doesn’t have to be complicated, and you can power your RV without a generator too! You can run your refrigerator on a few solar panels- so long as you understand the rest of your RV’s power needs. You can boondock and still keep your groceries cold, provided you have a solar set-up capable enough!