Photo of tent in field with solar panels set up

This Is The Best Size Solar Panel For A Camping Fridge (Plus Two Great Camping Fridges)

Camping fridges are incredible lifesavers that make camping sessions much more comfortable, but buying one can be challenging. Many factors affect what size solar panels you should utilize for your camping fridge. However, it is best to buy a solar panel that has enough capacity to power other electrical components aside from the refrigerator. 

It is best to purchase solar panels at least 65×39 inches in size, but there are many things to consider before buying solar panels for your camping fridge aside from the size, such as efficiency and power load

This article will delve deep into these concepts and give you an idea about which camping refrigerators to purchase. 

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What Size Solar Panel For Camping Fridges?

Solar panels are a versatile technology that can help people harvest electrical energy from the sun. Unlike other forms of energy such as coal, the nuclear, wind, and hydro, solar panels do not utilize costly and clunky equipment to run. 

Moreover, like other alternative energy sources, solar energy is good for the environment, minimizing carbon footprint– vital while you are in the middle of the wilderness (as you will, as much as possible, need to preserve the natural order of your campsite). 

However, buying one for your campsite is not as straightforward as many think it is. There are too many variables to consider before giving a concrete answer. Below, we list a few considerations you will need to consider when asking what size solar panels are for camping fridges. 

Considerations To Make Before Buying

  • The efficiency of camping fridges
  • The physical location of the campsite
  • Size versus performance
  • The fluctuating power supply

The Concept Of Consumption Versus Need

More often than not, there are more things aside from your camp refrigerator that you will need to power on a campsite. Granted that advanced and fully-featured camping fridges allow phone charging, other electrical components such as lightbulbs need electricity. While these electrical components at an individual level may not be such power hogs, they holistically turn out to be a considerable power drain. 

For example, we will calculate how much electricity a typical lightbulb will use below. 

Electricity Consumption Of Lightbulbs 

  • Standard, 700 lumens, 60 watts
  • Halogen, 700 lumens, 42 watts
  • CFL, 700 lumens, 12 watts
  • LED, 700 lumens, 10 watts

Suppose that you bought an LED light bulb with you. Six of those, and you can power your camping refrigerator. You would be incredibly likely to go over the electricity budget considering electric kettles. Electric cooking (stoves, ovens, kettles) are pretty substantial energy hogs, and these appliances can use up to 2000 to 4000 watts of electricity per hour. (source)

Using electric cookers through small solar panels would not be wise, so consider those a no-go. Moreover, who would want to go camping only to cook electrically? Nevertheless, get an intelligent estimate of how much electricity you might need to power your campsite. Below, we discuss how much power camping fridges use.

Camping Fridges: Efficiency

One vital variable to consider is knowing what size solar panels are for camping fridges is your camping fridge’s power consumption and efficiency. Most camping fridges utilize adaptive cooling technology, meaning that they do not run at the same power for the entirety of their run.

Typically, most camping fridges suck a lot of electricity on their initial run. This phenomenon is because the camping fridge will run at full power to cool the food or drinks you have lying around swiftly. Camping fridges may suck up to more than 70 watts of power during this run.

How Much Electricity Is Necessary During Cooling?

During the periods wherein the fridge’s insides have cooled to around or below freezing point, they may run off on a small amount of electricity. Some camping fridges eat approximately 10 watts of power to maintain the temperature but require less electricity than the cooling process. 

However, some camping fridges that are power hogs can consistently eat up large amounts of electricity at a time. Moreover, the consistency of solar panels can heavily impact the cooling ability of said fridges. However, most modern camping fridges come equipped with a battery or can use an external battery source. 

Precautions Before Buying Solar Panels For Camping Fridges

Solar panels are not one hundred percent effective all the time as there are a lot of variables that can affect their performance. These variables can be problematic as they can make your energy production estimate lower than expected, disrupting your energy planning. 

You should always take into account these variables and compensate them accordingly. Below, we list the few variables that you will need to consider to maximize the performance of your solar panel so that you will account for these deficiencies in doing your energy audit. 

Things To Take Into Consideration

  • Proper Positioning And Shade: The Tilt And The Azimuth
  • Efficiency And The Size Versus Performance Debate
  • The Variance In Power Consumption

Proper Positioning And Shade: The Tilt And The Azimuth

Solar panels are an incredibly effective source of electricity, and many homes in the United States can run off all their appliances using solar panels alone. However, this proposition is only valid on medium to large-scale solar farms, such as residential solar farms.

When it comes to portable solar panels, the situation is entirely different. In farms wherein one can have many solar panels at once, they can supplement the lack of production with their sheer number. The number of solar panels needed to run a refrigerator

However, when you carry one or two panels, the chances are that a single interference can completely slow down or shut off your electrical devices, including your camping fridge.

The number of solar panels needed to run a refrigerator varies based on several factors.

One of the most common interferences to solar panels, especially when it comes to camping, is shade. Shade might seem harmless, but it tends to reduce the efficiency of solar panels. The obvious step is to let your solar panel face direct sunlight. However, some things can improve the efficiency of said panels. (source)

A Two-Step Guide To Improving Solar Panel Efficiency

  1. Manage the tilt of the panel – the correct way to orient your solar panel depends sorely on your latitude. For example, in San Diego, California, you must tilt your solar panels at a 33-degree angle. (source)
  2. The azimuth of the panel – the azimuth of the panel refers to the rotation relative to the North (i.e., the south is 180 degrees). This rotation should depend on whether you are in the north or south hemisphere. For people in the Northern Hemisphere, their solar panels should face south. On the contrary, Southern Hemisphere panels should face the North.

Efficiency And The Size Versus Performance Debate

The premise seems to revolve around size throughout the article, namely, what size solar panels are for camping fridges. Admittedly, the connection between size and performance is objectively true concerning the power generation of solar panels. However, the scaling between these two is not linear, especially since different panels can generate different amounts of power even at the same size.

So why is this? Theoretically, similarly sized panels should be producing the same amount of electricity. The answer is efficiency.

When buying solar panels, aside from size, what you should look at is the production capacity of the panels. A quick search on Amazon will help you see how portable solar panels can have varying power production capacities. The easiest ones to find are 100-watt solar panels. 

What Can 100-Watt Solar Panels Do?

According to global solar energy equipment distributor Renogy, these 100-watt solar panels, although underwhelming at first glance, can produce approximately one kilowatt-hour a day upon receiving eight solid daylight hours. (source)

One hundred watts of power can power up residential routers, laptops, lights, and fans. However, these are not what you would first buy for powering camping fridges. After all, a camping fridge at max power may need to use more than 70 watts of power. Including other electrical devices and accounting for variating energy absorption levels, 100 watts is not enough.

Estimating Power Production

It is essential to use and purchase solar panels that can produce at least 200 watts of power. In addition to that, another more critical consideration is the cell count of each panel. Before doing an energy estimate for solar panel power production, check the power capacity, size, and cell count to know if the solar panel you are eyeing is good enough for your campsite. 

Below, we list a general guideline (not reliable, check power capacity labels) as to what energy production capacity to expect relative to the size of your solar panels.

General Estimate Vs. Power Production 

  • Sixty solar cells per module can produce approximately 175 to 240 watts of power. These modules can be around 65 by 39 inches in size.
  • Seventy-two solar cells per module can produce approximately 250 to 300 watts of power. These modules can be around 78 by 39 inches in size. 

Maximizing Energy Consumption Of Camping Fridges

While solar panels alone can power your camping fridges, it is best to know some tips about conserving energy, especially since fridges are energy hogs. When one needs more power than usual, these tips can come in handy.

According to monthly guide releases by camping fridge manufacturer National Luna, there are a few tips for reducing the amount of energy your camping fridge will eat up. Below, we list the following: (source)

How to Reduce The Energy Consumption 

  • keep your camping fridge in a cool, dry place, away from direct sunlight
  • use the right amount of volume for your needs
  • refrain from unnecessary opening and closing
  • purchase a camping fridge with thick insulation as much as possible
  • don’t go overkill on cooling

Keep Your Camping Fridge In A Cool Dry Place

The answer to the question “What size solar panels are for camping fridges?” may vary greatly, especially when it comes to ambient temperature. Ambient temperatures can cause energy usage to rise. In controlled tests, camping fridges were put in the same setting but at different ambient temperatures. The results were the following:

  • For one hour, “fridge A” was left running under 21 degrees Celsius ambient temperature. The compressor ran 20% of the time and has cycled once in the past hour.
  • For one hour, “fridge B” was left running under 32 degrees Celsius ambient temperature. The compressor ran 30% of the time and has cycled twice in the last hour.
  • For one hour, “fridge C” was left running under 43 degrees Celsius ambient temperature. The compressor ran 50% of the time and cycled three times in the last hour.

As you can see, ambient temperature alone can double or triple your energy consumption. As much as possible, keep your camping fridge in the shade, away from sunlight.

Use The Right Amount Of Volume For Your Needs

When buying camping fridges, always buy the correct size. Don’t go overkill and buy a camping fridge that’s too large. It will take up a lot of space, but it will also take up a lot of energy.

The same can be said when one opens and closes refrigerator doors relentlessly. Every time you open the fridge, introductory thermodynamics tells us that heat from the environment will rush and flood through your fridge, making your fridge work harder than usual.

Insulation Matters

As we said earlier, ambient temperatures can heavily affect power consumption. In tropical countries, ambient temperatures are a constant variable. To mitigate this, purchase camping fridges with thick insulation.

Limit Cooling

At what temperature do you need your food to be? Below freezing, or just above that? Most residential refrigerators run at four to seven degrees Celsius. If you’re not freezing anything, don’t go beyond this metric.

The scaling of energy consumption is exponential, meaning the more you cool your fridge, the more energy consumption skyrockets. There might not be much noticeable difference from -2 to -6 degrees Celsius, but your power consumption goes sky high. In a controlled experiment by National Luna, they found the following results: (source)

  • At 32 degrees Celsius of ambient temperature, the camping fridge cools at 4 degrees Celsius. It used the compressor 18 to 20% of the time in one hour, doing one cycle.
  • At 32 degrees Celsius of ambient temperature, the camping fridge cools at -6 degrees Celsius. The energy consumption triples compared to the latter in one hour.
  • At 32 degrees Celsius of ambient temperature, the camping fridge cools at -16 degrees Celsius. The power consumption nearly doubled compared to the -6 degrees Celsius benchmark. Meanwhile, the power consumption increased six-fold when contrasted with the 4 degrees Celsius benchmark. 

Product Feature

Aside from knowing what size solar panels are for camping fridges, it is also best to know what are the best camping fridges to buy. It isn’t practical to start with high-end units when one is new with the whole camping fridges ordeal. 

However, it would be an excellent exercise to learn more about the “cream of the crop” products. Moreover, high-end products typically are good benchmarks, and one can consider them if they are confident enough to buy one. 

Dometic CFX 75DZW (High-End)

The Dometic CFX 28 is a great product to get started with, as not only does it have top-of-the-line features, but it is also incredibly reliable and has a top-notch build quality. One thing to note about the Dometic CFX 28 is that it isn’t mainly the best in one thing. 

However, it is remarkable because it takes all the good features and consolidates them into one fantastic product. Below, we list all the pros and cons the Dometic CFX 28 has. (source)

Features And Considerations

  • Top-class polymer construction with stainless steel hinges and reinforced corners
  • It has a fully insulated lid for prolonged coolness.
  • Can utilize multiple power options, from 100-240 AC and a DC option of 12/24 V
  • It has digital controls for a more manageable temperature adjustment experience and battery protection features.
  • It uses an LED light for interior lighting to help you spot food in dark environments and reduce energy consumption compared to other bulb technologies.
  • Enables phone charging
  • It can cool up to a staggering -7 F or -21 C. This feature enables the Dometic to freeze ice cubes in about three hours.
  • Incredibly portable
  • Not incredibly energy efficient, but not a power hog either.
  • Quite pricy
  • Portable

Whynter FM-45G Portable Powered Cooler (Budget)

For those recently acquainted with camping fridges, this unit might be the one to buy. It is recommendable because of its stellar performance while maintaining a reasonably affordable price. Below, we list its pros and considerations:

Features And Considerations

  • It has a fast-freeze feature that allows for turbo cooling.
  • It has excellent temperature variance, even better than the Dometic.
  •  reach temperatures around -8F or -22C
  • Relatively small compared to other offerings
  • Compared to other units of its size, it consumes too much energy in normal conditions. However, it consumes significantly less power during low mode than units of the same measure.

Summary

Looking up what size solar panels are for camping fridges can be intimidating, and there are many variables to consider. These variables are the following: the location, the placement, the size, the number of solar cells, the efficiency of both the panel and the camping fridge, and other electrical devices that may also use a chunk of the allocated energy, and more. However, we recommend a 60-cell panel at the bare minimum. As for the camping fridge to buy, we recommend the Dometic CFX 75DZW for experienced customers and the Whynter FM-45G Portable Powered Cooler for those on a strict budget. 

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