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How Many Solar Panels Do I Need to Run a Refrigerator in my RV?

Are you looking to RV off-grid this summer for extended time periods? If so, you may need an alternative power source for your 12V fridge. 

When you spend a lot of time in your RV like Jennifer and me, you need to consider alternative power sources to run a refrigerator. Especially if you like to go boondocking or live off-grid. 

Since most places in the true wild do not have a place to plug into, you will need to rely on a solar system to help keep your fridge running. That means you are likely looking into your best options for keeping your food cold without traditional power sources, like battery power and propane.

That also means you may be asking, How many solar panels do I need to run a refrigerator? 

The umbrella answer is the number of solar panels depends on your power consumption. But the short answer for RVs is about 300-watts of panels. There’s more to consider, though, so please keep reading to learn more.

How Many Solar Panels Do I Need to Run a Refrigerator?

At home, you probably have an average household refrigerator. In order to power that fridge using solar power, you would need about two to three solar panels. Average solar panels produce approximately 250 to 400 Watts of power.

But you are not using an average refrigerator in your RV. Most likely, you need to power a 12V fridge, which is smaller.

The best size solar panel to run a 12V fridge is 150 Watts into 200 Watts of batteries. That’s why a 300-Watt panel system is a great choice since you can be sure to collect and store more than enough energy for a continuous power supply. That way if the forecast is not calling for sunny days, you can store more energy. 

You may want to read our article on best portable solar panels for RV.

When shopping around for a solar energy system, be sure to check its wattage rating so that you get exactly what you need. Also factor in the amount of sunlight you typically get when traveling. Same with the time of year. The sun is closer and produces more solar energy in the summer, than in winter.

And it’s stronger in southern states than northern.

Truth is, only between 11 Am and 1 PM local time is when solar panels are most effective. Super fancy systems angle themselves to catch more rays as the sun moves. Or if you are using portable panels, you can manually adjust their angle at various times.

If you love to RV in dense forests or northern locations, you are going to get much less energy.

And don’t forget to consider other common appliances when calculating how much energy you need. Especially if you want an air conditioner, too! You’ll want your system size to give enough power for the total amount of energy you need.

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BONUS 8 Things to Look for in a Fridge for Going Off-Grid

Now that you know the answer to how many solar power panels do I need to run a refrigerator in my RV, I want to outline what to look for in a fridge. When looking into a refrigerator that can be used off the grid, there are some key features you will want to keep in mind. 

1. Alternative Power Sources

How Many Solar Panels Do I Need to Run a Refrigerator in my RV? 2
alternatives

There are four different types of refrigerators commonly used off the grid. They include: 

With advancements in solar power and RV refrigerator design, solar-powered fridges are a very popular option. Lucky for you, there are many options on the market. 

2. Thick Insulation

Insulation is key to keeping the interior of your fridge cold. This is particularly important when staying somewhere without a plug-in power source. If you use solar panels to cool your fridge down, you want to have thick insulation to keep it cold. 

3. Highly Efficient Cooling Methods

Technology has come a long way with regard to refrigerators. New fridges now come complete with highly efficient cooling methods. They cool your food in less time and can keep them colder without needing as much electricity to run. 

4. Freezerless Fridges or Fridge & Freezer Arrangement

How Many Solar Panels Do I Need to Run a Refrigerator in my RV? 3
One type to consider

You will see different fridge options on the market, including ones without a freezer. While you may not be able to make ice water, it will save you precious storage space and energy. 

Fridge and freezer arrangements also look different in different types of refrigerators. You want to be sure to look at the dimensions or styles to find one that fits your needs.

5. Available Power Sources 

Before fridge shopping, you also want to know how much power you will have to be able to allocate to your 12V fridge. If you have a solar panel system that stores a lot of energy, you will have a lot of options available to you. 

When looking into batteries to use in conjunction with your solar power set-up, go with deep cycle batteries. Not only are they the most common type of RV battery for boondocking, but they will work well for most boondockers. (We do suggest full-time boondockers use lithium batteries. They last longer, charge and discharge fuller and are much more efficient than traditional AGM batteries)

When looking at various electrically powered refrigerators, be sure to look for the EnergyStar label. Under the rating, there will be an average, expected kWh usage. This gives you a good idea of the amount of power needed for the fridge. 

6. Sizing

How Many Solar Panels Do I Need to Run a Refrigerator in my RV? 4
What size do you need?

How much food do you need to keep cold? That probably depends on who is going to be using the fridge. 

You can find fridges that are small in size (think dorm-room size). Others are large chests and freezers (which you likely will not take off the grid). Be mindful of what your true needs are. Then compare that 12V fridge to the amount of power you have available. 

Some are permanently embedded in your RV. Others are portable and can be carried around.

7. Longevity, Durability, and Ease of Maintenance

20 years ago you could purchase an appliance and it would last for, well, 20 years. That is not how products are made anymore. Newer appliances are not as durable as they once were. 

Since that is the case, you should look for something that is durable and well-made. 

You also want to find something that is easy to maintain and repair. The last thing you want is to be stuck off the grid without a working fridge. And of course, repairmen do not travel that far. 

8. Price

When it comes to price there is a big range. You can pay as little as $50 for an icebox, and as much as $2,000 for a high-quality solar-powered option. 

Since options vary from model to model, it is hard to pinpoint an exact price. You will want to identify what your exact specifications are and then you can really narrow it down. 

Most solar power fridges will likely cost over $1,000, with higher-end models approaching the $2,000 range. 

What Number of Panels Do You Use?

In the comments, please tell us about the solar power system you use for your different energy needs.

Curious about the gear, gadgets, accessories, and RV products Mike & Jennifer use and recommend?

On this RV Lifestyle Travel blog, our RV Podcast and our RV Lifestyle YouTube Channel, we mention all sorts of RV-related products and gear that we use. So, we created a special page that links to them. We update this all the time.  CLICK HERE to go to it directly. 

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4 Responses to “How Many Solar Panels Do I Need to Run a Refrigerator in my RV?”

June 17, 2021at7:32 pm, Tom Berg said:

I have a Forest River Salem 179FDBK with a 12V refrigerator. I have upgraded to 2 100Ah AGM batteries with a 310W solar panel on the roof.
We haven’t boondocked a lot yet, but the graphs I get from my Victron charge controller indicate that my single panel keeps the batteries charged, but they don’t quite enter “float” mode, meaning that I am right on the edge of having enough solar for the fridge.
As we get more experience, I’m fairly sure I’ll be adding a 2nd 310W panel to be able to keep things running for longer periods of time.

Reply

June 17, 2021at2:20 pm, William Krueger said:

Another option is offered by these folks!

https://jc-refrigeration.com/product-information/

In the form of a 12v compressor system replacement for existing propane/elec model RV refrigerators. According to their FAQ they draw even less electricity. Per their faq: “my unit draws only .8 A 92W”. They have self install instructions but I’d personally visit them and pay to hav it done.

Reply

June 17, 2021at12:01 pm, Dan Wilderman said:

My wife and I live in Leisure World, Seal Beach, CA. It is a wonderful option, in our opinion, for retirement living, especially for folks with moderate retirement income levels. We use our 2007 Roadtrek 190P as our “daily driver”. Because we do very little day to day driving and my wife no longer drives at all, it seems to be our best option. HOWEVER, in our community there is no provision for plugging an R.V. TO 110V for purposes of battery charging.
It is for that reason that we purchased and self-installed a single 200 watt (24 volt) panel; with charge controller, etc. (AM-Solar. Oregon) Seal Beach is usually sunny, and it’s works very well for us.
When we do travel away from home we rarely “boondock” for more than one night in a given place; so between daily driving and the solar panel, it works out pretty well to keep our two AGM 12 volt house batteries in hood shape. Of course, when we are “off grid” we run our little refrig on propane; and since we are not desert lovers, air conditioning is rarely needed.
We appreciate your helpful column and have been regular recipients since we purchased in 2009.
THANK-YOU!

Reply

June 17, 2021at10:22 am, Vic Delnore said:

In your article about solar panels and refrigerators, please note that in the summertime (northern hemisphere) the sun is NOT closer; it’s actually a little further away! What makes the summer/winter difference for solar panels is that the summer sun is at a higher angle and thus shines more directly onto the horizontal panels. Also, the summer sun is in the sky longer.

I enjoy your articles.

Reply

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