The answer is “yes, if the refrigerator doesn’t pull too much power”. But let me explain.
You’ve probably heard that a solar generator can run things like lights and televisions and coffee makers. But can a solar generator run a refrigerator?
I’m sure you’ve seen plenty of examples where people have plugged in a lamp or something similar to run off their portable solar generators. That’s cool, but most refrigerators are not small enough and don’t use enough power for it to be practical (in terms of either cost or space) to plug them in directly to one of these units. However, there are ways around this if your refrigerator does require less than about 20 amps at 120 volts when running on full power.
So, Can A Solar Generator Run A Refrigerator?- The First Thing
The first thing you need to consider is the solar power panels themselves. That’s a pretty standard size for a 12 volt solar panel, and it probably puts out enough juice to run your fridge directly (again, assuming it draws less than about 20 amps). But if not, there are other options. What you need is a way of converting the 120 volts coming in from the solar generator down to something the refrigerator will be okay with using. And that means an inverter of some kind. You can find them in all shapes and sizes at many electronics stores. They’re relatively inexpensive too, so this isn’t going to break the bank either way.
Video Credit: Pure Power Solar with Max
When I say “converting” what I mean is transforming from one voltage to another, and with an inverter it’s actually kind of simple (or at least conceptually). Technically these devices work by switching on and off at a very high frequency. This is what makes the transformer inside them work. Essentially you have two coils of wire that turn magnetic fields into electricity, and then they just “flip” directions so that there’s always a constant flow regardless of whether the power is being supplied from a battery or not.
Inverters are rated for how much voltage they can output in this way without taking too much power from the batteries themselves to do it (the term for this is called efficiency). So if your solar panel puts out 12 volts but your refrigerator needs 120, then you probably need an inverter that can output at least ten times (120/12) as much power. However, I would recommend getting one rated for at least 2 or even 3 times the amount you think you’ll need if possible. This will ensure there’s enough power left in your batteries to run your other appliances when it isn’t sunny.
The Side Note
As a side note, this is also how most solar power inverters work: they’re simply miniature versions of larger devices like those used in wind turbines and hydroelectric generators and whatnot. What we call “inverters” are really just converters, but they’re so ubiquitous now that people tend to use these names interchangeably. Anyway, back on topic…
If you don’t have an inverter already, then you’ll need to get one and connect it up. Here’s a picture of what that would look like in this particular case:
This is what it would look like if you wanted to power the fridge directly from the solar panel in this example. But since we have an inverter, we can run the fridge off of its own battery instead:
The black wires on either side are actually connected to each other at some point, but don’t worry about that for now. The important thing here is that the light blue wire (which should be slightly thicker than the others) is plugged into both our solar generator and inverter, while also being able to charge a separate battery through those same two connections on opposite ends (if it’s not already charging a battery, then you can plug in your fridge directly to the inverter instead).
If we only plugged our solar panels and refrigerator into one of these connections (either the yellow or orange ones), then they’d all share the same resources. But if you have your own separate battery there, then you don’t need to worry about that as much.
This isn’t strictly necessary since most portable solar generators are equipped with their own built-in inverters and even their own batteries included in case you want to run something like a laptop or TV from them as well (and these also tend to be 120 volts for use in North America). But some models may not have quite enough power for this purpose, or may require a separate battery in which case you’d want to go about it this way. The main idea is that whether you’re using a standalone inverter or the built-in one, you can charge up your own battery as much as possible without drawing down on the generator’s battery.
And yes, if you have multiple devices plugged into an inverter at once along with your solar panels or other power source, they’ll all share what’s available. So I would recommend just sticking with one device and then making sure it always has some juice left over for when there isn’t any sun (this will be especially important if your fridge doesn’t have its own internal cooling system). By doing this we get the most bang for our buck since we don’t have to waste energy transferring the power from the solar panel into storage in a separate battery.
The Refrigerator Battery
The other thing left to worry about is that when you’re using your refrigerator with its own battery, it might be drawing down on this even when there’s no sun (although my fridge should not draw any current when at -18 degrees Celsius). So you’d want to make sure your solar panels are still able to keep up with the extra load or else your generator’s battery will get drained too much and fail eventually.
The way you do this is by using an inverter that can handle high “inrush currents” for power-hungry devices like refrigerators (a good option would be something like this), or by buying one of those fridge-inverter combinations you find on Amazon. Those also have the added advantage of being able to shut themselves off when there’s no power coming from the solar panels (like at night) so as not to drain your generator’s battery too much.
In case you’re using a smaller portable solar generator
This last thing is probably even more important if you’re using a smaller portable solar generator that isn’t equipped with its own inverter, since without any sort of automatic inrush current protection, it would be very easy to overheat and destroy your generator. That same problem could apply even with larger generators: both yours and the one powering our fridge need some kind of cooling system in order to keep working, so I’d recommend keeping them out of direct sunlight and trying not to overload them beyond what they’re rated for.
One awesome little trick
One awesome little trick that can be useful with some conventional fridges is to hook up a battery onto the back (if it has one), and then plugging the fridge directly into an inverter through that lower power cord (in this case, attach the red wire to the positive terminal). And while we’re at it, run any other low-power devices like lamps or my laptop off of that same inverter as well.
This way you would have a separate battery powering our fridge so it could continue running if there was ever a problem with the grid or solar generator, but also boosting overall efficiency by using just one large battery instead of two small ones. If your battery is small enough , then you might even be able to leave it plugged into the inverter at all times.