Solar Powered Refrigerators & Freezers [Complete Guide]
Recently, solar power and solar cooling technologies have become an efficient, convenient, and cost-effective solution for the rising residential and commercial cooling needs.
Currently, there’re lots of solar-powered refrigerators or freezers in the market that you can use to meet your chilling needs.
But there’s a need to choose the best units.
To pick the best refrigerator, you need to evaluate your cooling needs and then look for the unit that suits you in terms of size, storage space and type, initial cost, maintenance needs, and durability.
In this guide, we’ll explore all these crucial attributes of solar-powered refrigerators and more information to show you the right direction as far as solar refrigerators are concerned.
What Is a Solar-Powered Refrigerator, and How Does It Work?
A Solar-powered refrigerator is a refrigerator powered by solar energy, either through photovoltaic or solar thermal energy.
These refrigerators are built just like conventional ones with even similar size models. There’re AC and DC models, but the latter is the most common.
The working principle is pretty straightforward:
The current generated by the panels on exposure to sunlight goes directly to a charge controller and then to the battery. The energy to power the refrigerator is then drawn from the battery.
The charge controller has two significant roles:
- Ensuring that the correct voltage and current goes to the battery
- Protecting the battery from drastic changes in power
Instead of the compression-expansion process, the unit itself leverages the adsorptive principle. It uses thermal energy to convert the refrigerant solution into a liquid. The energy produced in the process is then used to sustain the unit.
The power from the solar panels has to pass through a converter to be changed to AC before being fed to the refrigerator. The fridge itself works just like a conventional one.
What to look for Choosing a Good Solar-Powered Refrigerator?
A solar refrigerating system is not a cheap investment, so there’s a need to make a sound choice when you head out shopping.
Are you wondering what features are the most important for an excellent solar refrigerator choice?
Here are our recommendations.
Size should be your major consideration when choosing a solar-powered refrigerator. This is because size is tied to most of the other factors that we’ll discuss below.
There’re very many size options for solar refrigerators, from as low as 28L to as much as 849L.
You can choose the lightweight mini-fridges for drinks or food storage when traveling in an RV or off-grid cabin. The large models are suitable for household and commercial use.
Lightweight mini-fridges example sizes
|Capacity in Liters||Capacity in ft3||Weight in pounds||Weight in Kgs||Width in inches||Height in inches||Depth in inches|
Large refrigerators example sizes
|Capacity in Liters||Capacity in ft3||Weight in pounds||Weight in Kgs||Width in inches||Height in inches||Depth in inches|
Other solar fridge sizes include (84, 98, 110,138, 160, 188, 200, 208, 258, 280, 308) L.
Cost is another crucial factor that you should pay attention to. If you have a solar panel system already installed, then you just have to buy the refrigerator itself.
For the unit, you can spend hundreds to thousands of dollars depending on the size and model.
Let’s say you want to buy the 280L fridge and install the entire system as well- these are the figures you should be looking to spend:
- Cost of the unit $2500
- 135W solar panel-$200
- 100A battery-$100
- Charge controller-$60
- Installation and connection- $100
- First-year costs $2800
For the cost, just choose what works for you and your budget. You check various brands to know and compare prices, then pick the best deal for the unit you’re looking to buy.
Insulation in a solar refrigerator ensures there’s no exchange of cold air and hot air between the outside and the inside of the unit. The thicker the insulation, the more energy-efficient the refrigerator is.
The commonly used insulation materials are:
- Polyurethane rigid foam
- Fumed silica vacuum insulated panels
- Extruded polystyrene
Any of these will serve the purpose of insulation if properly installed (with no seams left), but polyurethane rigid foam is the most popular insulation material.
Type of storage
There’re endless options when it comes to the types of storage that solar-powered refrigerators come with. From compartments, trays, wire racks, drawers to shelves with doors, you have great options to choose from.
Choosing the type of storage in a solar refrigerator is a matter of preference. Anytime you feel like you need a change, you can always buy your own organizers.
Solar-powered refrigerators are exceptionally energy-efficient, but there’re some tips you need to consider:
- Go for refrigerators with an energy consumption of below 360 KWh per year or 1KWh per day. These will cater for your cooling needs effortlessly.
- Avoid units with energy efficiency of 250KWh and below as these could offer low cooling capacity than you need.
- Read reviews to know what customers are saying about the efficiency of the refrigerator.
What is the most energy-efficient solar-powered refrigerator?
There’s no hard and fixed rule that highlights the most energy-efficient solar refrigerator. As long you don’t buy the cheapest refrigerator in the market, then you can make it energy efficient by doing the following:
- Set up the right panel system
- Install proper charge controllers
- Use it appropriately
Choose ENERGY STAR Certified Models
ENERGY STAR Certified models are AC-powered refrigerators or freezers that have passed the energy criteria of the Department of Energy.
You should always aim at buying ENERGY STAR Certified Models as they come with an assurance of improved energy efficiency (at least 9% more energy efficient than the non-certified ones.
Used Gases and Their Safety for Health and Environment
There are several refrigerants used for solar refrigerating units. The most common are:
- A mixture of water and Ammonia
- A mixture of water and Lithium Bromide
These refrigerants are toxic and you should always take precautions when handling them. Make sure there’re no leakages when feeding your unit and also store them in a safe place.
Environmental pollution by the used gases will not occur unless there’s a leakage in the refrigerator. It’s always advisable to inspect the unit from time to time to ensure that everything is intact.
Lifespan and Maintenance Requirements of Solar-Powered Refrigerators
A typical solar-powered can serve you for around 10-12 years.
In terms of maintenance, nothing much is needed. For the refrigerator itself, it's a ‘plug and play’, meaning you just have to connect it to the power outlet and that’s all.
What you may need to pay attention to are the following:
The solar panels – The solar panels are the heart of the solar refrigerators and there’s a need to frequently check them and ensure that they’re in their best shape. Professional cleaning from time to time will also help keep the panels in their best shape.
Batteries – The battery's efficiency used to store power will reduce over time and you’ll have to replace them. It’s recommended that you replace them every 5-7 years.
The Advantages & Drawbacks of Using a Solar-Powered Refrigerator
• Highly convenient
Solar-powered refrigerators will operate continuously as long as there’s the sun at least a day every few days.
What’s more, there’s a battery to store the energy when there’s plenty of suns and power your refrigerator when the sun is insufficient.
Solar refrigerators and freezers are meant to operate day and night, all year through.
• Exceptional energy efficiency
Solar panels are built for energy efficiency.
Most solar refrigerators run on DC, which requires way less panel capacity to power up the compressor compared to AC solar refrigerators. A standard solar fridge running on DC will require 3-6 times less panel capacity than an AC refrigerator.
• Safe to the environment
Solar refrigeration eliminates the need to burn fossil fuels to produce electricity. You all know how the process can pollute the air, leave alone releasing the notorious greenhouse gases.
With a solar refrigerator, you’ll be using clean energy from the sun that’s non-polluting to the environment.
• High upfront cost
A solar refrigerator can be a pricey investment at the start. The good thing is, the prices for solar appliances and systems are reducing. Even better, solar pays for itself over time; hence it’s a worthy investment.
• Back-up charge may be required in extremely harsh weather
If there’s no sun, say for an entire week, then you’ll definitely need to back up the system with a generator.
• Batteries need to be replaced after every 5-7 years
Due to power supply instability, the efficiency of solar batteries reduces significantly over time. The standard time to do this is 5-7 years. If the controller is faulty, you may need to replace the batteries even sooner.
To better understand the merits and demerits of solar refrigerators, here’s a little comparison with conventional refrigerators.
|Factor||Solar-powered refrigerator||Conventional refrigerator|
|Environment friendliness||Clean energy that does not pollute the environment||Burning fossil fuels pollutes the environment|
|Grid connectivity||No need for grid utility||Must be connected to the grid|
|Convenience||Work autonomously all-year through||Affected by power blackouts|
|Independence for usage||Can be used in remote areas||Usage is limited to grid connectivity|
|Initial cost||High initial cost||lower initial cost|
Do solar refrigerators have an ice and water dispenser or a filtered water system built-in?
Yes, there're solar refrigerators with either internal or external water & ice dispenser and built-in filtration systems. Solar water dispenser refrigerators are highly convenient and efficient to use.
If this is what you’re looking for, plus some space-saving in your home, spend the few extra bucks for the all-in-one unit.
There’s still an option of solar water dispensers for those who want a dedicated unit for that.
Are there any top-freezer, bottom freezer, or side-by-side models?
Yes, you can get a solar-powered fridge with all types of freezer configurations. Even so, you should understand that top-freezer models are highly energy-efficient than the other models.
Here is an estimated yearly energy consumption you should expect for ENERGY-STAR certified units of these models:
|Freezer configuration||Energy consumption|
How many solar panels do I need to run a fridge?
To know the actual number of solar panels you need, you must understand your fridge's energy consumption. If it consumes 1KWh per day, then the solar panels you install should provide just that.
Note that you can choose to have one big solar panel or several small ones for the refrigerator. For accurate results, involve a solar systems expert when doing your fridge installation.
Is a solar refrigerator a worthy investment?
Considering the long-term cost-effectiveness, a solar refrigerator is definitely a worthy investment.
Yes, it’ll come with a high upfront cost, but on the other hand, your energy bills will reduce significantly. A solar refrigerator is expected to pay for itself over time.
An energy star refrigerator with a lifespan of 12 years can save you $200+ over this period.
The bottom line
Now that you know what to look for in a solar-powered refrigerator, you have no excuse not to acquire one.
We’ve done thorough research for this one and you can be assured that the guidelines provided here are all you need to make the soundest purchasing decision.
Before you head out to buy your solar-powered refrigerator, though, read a couple of reviews and see what past customers say about the unit you’re looking to purchase. It’s good to go for what you really like and know can serve you perfectly, but some recommendations or opinions won’t hurt.
Finally, it’s recommended to get an electrician to help you install your refrigerator properly. You may have got it all right in selecting the refrigerator but fail to set up a good system to serve the unit.
Solar is here to stay, so leverage it in every way that it can benefit you.
All in all, don’t think twice about installing a solar-powered refrigerator or freezer; it’s one of the most worthy investments you can make in 2021 and beyond.