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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 I need to power a refrigerator?
It will depend on the required amperage of your refrigerator, but the average RV fridge needs at least two 300 watt solar panels, along with batteries to store that solar energy.
But what should you consider when it comes to solar energy and powering the rest of your RV when it comes time to dry camp or go boondocking in your new Class C RV or travel trailer? Let’s take a look.
How Does Solar Power Work in an RV?
Solar power is much more complicated than people initially think, especially in an RV setting. However, with some understanding about how much power you use in your RV on an average day, you’re well on your way to understanding solar power in a camp setting!
Solar power only works in an RV with the addition of a battery or two onboard your RV. Having an inverter and converter are also usually necessary for powering your rig with solar power.
Your solar panels get charged when your RV is parked in a sunny spot. This energy gets stored in your RV batteries, which is why having a reliable battery made for boondocking is always a good idea.
It is 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 will most likely purchase too few solar panels if you don’t know this number first.
You should always budget your energy usage based on an appliance’s startup wattage as opposed to their running wattage. This is because the startup amount is always going to be higher than the running amount.
It is 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 that Run on Solar Power
Given that 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 set up.You may be familiar with 12 volt power if you own a multimeter (a must for any RVer).
These fridges run on 12 volt power, also known as battery power- it is essentially a simpler energy source found in your RV that not every appliance is capable of running off of.
This is what makes 12 volt 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 110 volt fridge.
This lower amperage usage appeals to many boondockers, as it means fewer solar panels needed overall. This can be especially valuable if you have a few higher amperage appliances or electronics.
12 volt 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, 110 volt 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 will need to have a converter installed into your RV. But more on that later.
A 110 volt 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!
110 volt 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 12 volt or propane fridge.
However, the price may end up higher than you expect if you are hoping to run this style of fridge off of solar panels. These fridges are used to running on shore power, or a standard outlet.
This usually results in a higher amperage draw than 12 volt 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 12 volt 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 of power cord, or a 12 volt cord. They may also be outfitted with a more traditional 110 volt power cord, but that is 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 will not suit every boondocker however, 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 Else Do I Need to Power my RV Fridge with Solar Power?
We have 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?
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 110 volt or shore power into battery power- it is designed to maintain your batteries when you are 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 (and you can learn about our top converter picks here). They will work and charge your batteries as well as power your 12 volt 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 installing solar panels to power your refrigerator, especially if you only have a 110 volt fridge on board your RV. So, what exactly is an inverter?
An inverter is similar to a converter in that it changes the way certain power is directed. An inverter can change your battery power into power for 110 volt 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 about whether or not your current rig has a reliable and up to date inverter on board.
Again, you will be unable to power your 110 volt refrigerator on solar panels without an inverter that can change your 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 will also be unable to power your refrigerator on solar panels without batteries. Why is this? Because solar panels simply gather solar energy- that energy is then stored into reliable and powerful batteries.
There are many different types of RV batteries, some of which are more expensive than others. However, usually the more you are 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 off of 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.
This is because batteries can only supply so much power without needing recharging, especially if you are running an RV on battery power exclusively. While solar panels are consistently recharging your batteries, you may still overload them with appliances.
This is why it is so important to know how many watts or amps you are using on an average day inside of your RV. Include every lightbulb and appliance, and multiple weather scenarios. You always want to keep your batteries from getting too low.
If you have a shady or rainy day, know that 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 $1000 on batteries!
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!
FAQs for How Many Solar Panels Do I Need to Power a Refrigerator
Still have 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 will need more than 100 watts 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 will need to know how many watts your refrigerator uses in order to run, both on start up and throughout the day. While every fridge is different, the average fridge needs 400-700 watts upon starting up, and around 100-300 watts to stay cold.
You can always purchase multiple 100 watt solar panels and link them together, with a large capacity battery attached! However, a single 100 watt panel is less likely to power a refrigerator all on its own.
Can a 400 Watt Solar Panel Run a Refrigerator?
A 400 watt solar panel may be able to run a refrigerator, yes. Again, however, it all depends on the type of fridge you have. Most 12 volt options should be able to run off of a single 400 watt solar panel- but only the fridge, nothing else.
Given a startup wattage range of 400-700, a single 400 watt panel may still not be enough to power your fridge on. And again, this size of panel will not work for any other appliances, especially over a longer trip.
While your batteries will ultimately determine the energy supply to your RV fridge, the replenishing of these batteries should happen in a timely fashion. That is 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 outfitted with solar (especially some of these luxury travel trailers), especially if it is prewired for solar panels on the roof. It may cost a bit from an RV manufacturer, but this way you know it has been done properly and you have enough power.
However, there are many solar kits that you can 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 Off Solar Power?
You can run a residential fridge off solar power. These types of fridges run off of 110 volt electricity, meaning you will 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 12 volt fridge. You should keep this in mind, especially if you have only a limited amount of solar panels and wattage. The average small residential fridge needs at least 200 watts, most likely.
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 standalone 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 100-300 watts in order to run, but these are usually very large freezers. Many RV fridges have freezers inside of 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 $5000. 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 that 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 is why it is very important 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. 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!