A Solar Powered Freezer

Living in our travel trailer, off-grid, has presented quite a few challenges.

First, there isn’t enough storage space.  We have had to be quite ingenious in finding ways to store things we need for our everyday living.  But one thing we just didn’t have enough space for was food.  Sure, we have a closet for our canned and boxed goods, but the little refrigerator/freezer in our travel trailer just wasn’t going to cut it!  Especially if we didn’t want to have to run to town every week!

We decided to see if we could find a very energy efficient freezer to store our food. After a few google searches we found an Igloo 5.1 cubic foot chest freezer for sale at Best Buy.  Sure, there were a couple freezers that were more energy efficient, but they cost lots more – one of them almost eighteen hundred dollars more!  So, we had a choice:  do we spend money on a beefy solar system to run an energy efficient freezer, or spend more money on a more efficient freezer and less on the panels.  We opted to spend the money on solar panels.

Why didn’t we use a propane freezer?  Well, what if there came a time when we couldn’t get into town for more propane?  What would we do then?  What if the SHTF and no propane was available…  at all? Besides, propane is a petroleum product and we are trying to use the least amount of fossil fuels as possible here on our homestead.

So, back to the electric Igloo freezer.  Here is the Energy Star Guide for this freezer:A freezer run on solar power

Do you see that it only costs twenty-one dollars a year to run this appliance?  Holy Cow, that’s less than two dollars a month!  At just 172 kilowatt hours per year to run this freezer, we figured it couldn’t be too hard to set up a solar system to run the freezer.

With that in mind, we bought the freezer.  Ray did some more on-line research and found a company called “Windy Nation” that sells solar panels, charge controllers, inverters – just about anything you would need to set up an efficiently run solar system.  They put together entire “kits” – all you have to do is tell them what appliance you want to run and how many watts would be required to run the appliance (or appliances). Their customer service department is excellent and they have guys that will give you installation advice over the phone.  With a smile!  It’s rare to find good customer service these days.

When we got the panels (in just a few days) and unpacked them, we were very pleased!  They were just what we needed.

The first thing Ray had to do was to build the tower that the panels would rest upon.  Fortunately, we just had some very tall oak trees removed so that our fruit orchard would receive more sunlight, and sunlight (of course) is good for solar panels!   Ray built the tower next to our tool shed with redwood treated 4” x 4” posts set in concrete for stability and 2” x 4” lumber for tie-ins and support.

How to run a freezer with solar panels

Here Ray has two of the panels up. The tree to the right was rotting, so Ray put the dish and the smaller solar panel on the new tower also.  The smaller solar panel runs the lights in the tool shed.

Once the panels were mounted on the solar tower, they had to be kept covered so that they would not receive any sunlight.  Why?  So Ray wouldn’t get shocked when he was setting up the rest of the system!

how to run a freezer off grid

Here are the charge controller, inverter, batteries and the freezer.

Do you remember our laundry shed?  Well, there was some room left in there, so we put the freezer, the charge controller, inverter and the batteries in there.  Ray built a shelf for all the components right next to the freezer, with the batteries at the very bottom.

The specifics:

We bought four – 100 watt polycrystalline solar panels,  100 feet of 12 gauge wire (made for solar), a 1500 Watt inverter and a 40 Amp charge controller.  The batteries are deep cycle marine “Die Hards” from Sears. The batteries were wired in parallel for 12 volt, which was then inverted to 110 volts for the freezer.  We also have a 50 Amp auto-reset circuit breaker on the wires coming from the solar panels before they go into the charge controller, for safety’s sake.  And for just in case, Ray put 3 feet of a copper pipe into the ground with grounding wire, so the charge controller and inverter won’t blow up if the line gets a surge.

How to electrify a freezer off-grid

Here is a better picture of the charge controller and the inverter. Good stuff, Maynard!

How does it work?  Beautifully!

We have been using it for about three months now and have had no problems!  I recently bought 36 pounds of bacon and 40 pounds of chicken breasts from Zaycon Foods.  (If you have never heard of Zaycon Foods, you’re missing out!)  After just a day in the freezer they were frozen solid!

I mean  S.  O.  L.  I.  D.

how to power a freezer off-grid

The freezer is almost full already! Of course, a full freezer uses less energy than one half-full.

“So”, you may ask, “what happens in the winter when the sun doesn’t shine as much?”

Good question.

You see, during the summer we get plenty of sun, which I suppose you already know.  Lots of sunlight = lots of solar power to run the freezer, right?  Right!  But it is also warmer and so the freezer has to run more to keep the food frozen.

However, in the winter the outside temperature is much colder, so the freezer doesn’t have to run as much, which is great because there isn’t as much sunlight to charge the batteries!

It’s a beautiful system, isn’t it?

We are learning a lot about solar systems.  Well,  Ray is.  I still get volts and amps and all that mumbo-jumbo jargon confused!  When we build our new home, we plan to run almost everything with solar power.  All the lights in the house will be LED, we will use an energy efficient refrigerator (no icemakers, digital displays, etc.), and a whole house fan and ceiling fans instead of air conditioners.  Also, we have put our name on the long list for one of those new Tesla batteries!

How to run a freezer with solar power

The solar power tower! The four big panels run the freezer. The two small batteries on the bottom are for the motion detector lights on the outhouse. The panel on the very top runs lights in the tool shed. Of course, the Dish is for our TV!

Our goal is to be completely independent of any need for outside energy – eventually.  At this time, the oven/range in the house will be run on propane. With no vampire lights.

“What are vampire lights?” you ask.  Those are the little digital read-outs (time, timer, temperature, etc.) that can be found on your range/oven, refrigerator, microwave, etc.  You would be amazed at how much energy these little lights use over the course of a year!   The range we have decided to buy is made by Premier.  You can see it by clicking HERE.  We will also be installing a hybrid solar/propane tankless hot water system.  But that’s just about it in terms of using fossil fuels for our new home.  Of course, if we can’t get our hands on propane, or if the price skyrockets out of our reach, we can always cook on our outside barbeque grill, bake in our future pizza/bread oven or even cook/bake during the winter in our masonry heater.  These are all future projects and we can’t wait to tackle them!

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47 thoughts on “A Solar Powered Freezer

  1. Intriguing idea! We are considering going off grid in the distant future. We are collecting ideas like this. We keep hoping solar power will be enough to run a small place when we re ready. Thanks for sharing! #HomesteadBlogHop.

    • Yes, solar power will run an average household provided you are very energy efficient and your system is large enough! Since we will be building our home with insulated concrete forms, which will make our home super energy efficient, and we will be heating with a masonry heater, our solar system won’t have to be super big. And with the Tesla battery, which is guaranteed for 10 years, we should be good to go for at least that long because most solar panels carry a 20-30 year warranty. Thanks for hosting the blog party, Diane, and thanks for your comment!

    • We have been very happy with our solar systems so far. Our well is run on solar power, our travel trailer is run (mostly) on solar power, and now our freezer is also run on solar! We can watch TV for several hours every day if we wanted to, because of our solar system that runs both the flat screen TV and the satellite dish receiver. I slipped over to your blog and enjoyed your post about fall decorating, and love your style! Have a great day, Kim!

  2. Been awhile since I’ve updated myself on your progress. Loving what you’re doing! We would always pick to update the solar over just an updated more efficient appliance. Good call.

    • Thanks for stopping by again, Deborah! I am glad we think the same way. Afterall, the solar system can power many things, and some day it could be a lifesaver. Have a great weekend!

  3. This is interesting. We looked into solar power 17 years ago when we built our house, but at the time it was ridiculously expensive and not well thought out for the average homeowner. Your experience encourages me to keep this on my radar, and bit by bit look to make changes.

    Good for you in doing things your way!

    • Yes – bit by bit! Of course, when we build our new home, we will have an entirely new solar system to run it. But all the panels and batteries we have now will work nicely for the garage! As the price of solar panels gets less and less, and new battery technology comes to the forefront, going off-grid with solar energy isn’t the daunting process it used to be. I am glad you stopped by and commented today, Carolyn!

  4. So awesome to see you guys getting one more step ahead! And such a scary step for most people. I appreciate your sharing all your experiences with us all so we can be just that much more confident in our steps!! Keep on girl, you are a hero! M

    • So nice to hear from you Millie! This is another one of those projects where my husband’s knowledge has been invaluable. I don’t understand electrical things and probably never will, so I think I will stay in the kitchen and the garden where I feel more comfortable. Of course, I was happy to fill the freezer once it was up and running! 🙂

  5. I think your solar projects are fantastic, and save on other precious resources. So why is it that they (government officials) trying to stop the use of solar being installed? I really know the answer, they (power companies want our money, government gets their share, on and on. But what are your and your readers comments?

    Thanks for stopping by #OMHGFF this week, appreciate your visit!!
    Have a great weekend!

    • I may be blowing smoke out of my you-know-what, but I believe the government likes to control us (the masses) through necessary resources. If everyone was off the grid, didn’t require sewer or water systems, grew their own food and bartered with their neighbors for other products, we wouldn’t need the government as much, would we? Of course, I think if everyone was a bit more self-reliant, a lot of our societal problems (socialist hand-outs) would go away, and our country would actually be stronger for it. Just sayin’ 😉
      Thanks, Karren, for having such a fun party – and letting me in!

    • Government has no business interfering with or taxing off grid. I don’t know about off grid, but with grid tied systems, they are trying to make up lost revenue from grid tied solar and wind. Put it this way: You are the Electric Company, and you build a service. You install all of the wires, transformers, and then generate the grid electricity.Customers pay for this and the labor to install this stuff. Here comes solar and wind. First, the Greeners, owners of the solar and wind don’t want to send the energy they produce into the system for free, but they didn’t install the grid wires or transformers that they are still using. Second, the grid system has to be prepared to provide, instantly, the energy lost when the sun goes down or the wind stops blowing. Someone does have to pay for that. Customers pay for it, but the Greeners who are customers don’t.

    • Thanks, Ken. It has been up and running for a few months now without any problems! I can’t wait for you and Penny to see it next week.

  6. Hi, great post! We are getting a freezer from a friend in a few months. I would love to do this with it. Can you tell me about how much it cost for everything? Never done solar before and am suspecting it will be too much for us to afford, but you never know. Thanks, Dash

    • Good afternoon, Dash! First of all, your freezer needs to be super energy efficient. The solar system was a bit pricey – about $1,200 for everything. That does sound like a lot, but many systems qualify for government rebates, so check to see if yours would qualify. Also, our system is also warranted for many years, though the freezer is not. This is one of those “between a rock and a hard place” questions: Is it worth it to have a solar system with all the bells and whistles (like the one in the post), or should we just power our freezer through our local electricity provider? We are off grid, so this was a no brainer for us. We like the idea of energy independence, prefer not to use fossil fuels, and know that our system will have paid for itself in a few years. We also look at it this way: we buy and pay for a system now, and after the break-even point, our power is free. If we were to use our local power grid, we know (and I am sure you do also) that the cost for electricity will only go up and up. It’s a choice you have to ponder carefully. Thanks, Dash! BTW – love your rabbit fricassee!

  7. I admire those of you who are learning to live off the grid and implementing it. Great post, pinned it to my off the grid board. I think my first step is to get one of those solar ovens living her in Louisiana it would be beneficial both during a hurricane or not. Followed you here from the Our Simple Homestead party.

    • Those solar ovens are so great! I have used a friend’s solar oven, but I need to get one for myself, also! This winter my dear hubby is going to build us a solar dehydrator using our soda can heater – can’t wait for that one! Thanks for being such a wonderful hostess!

    • Thanks, Jamie! Yes – but that’s not always the case with solar, of course. It’s also during the winter when we have shorter days and require the use of more household light. That’s why we plan to use only LED lights in our new home. Thanks for stopping by today!

    • Oh yes, I hope he enjoys the post! Of course, if you have any further questions, please ask! Sometimes I forget to write something down and more can be learned through the comments of others. I hope you have an awesome week!

  8. Wow, you really are doing a great job of figuring this all out. The freezer looks like it works fabulously!! Thanks for sharing with SYC.
    hugs,
    Jann

  9. This is such a fantastic idea and one that I think I could implement here at our new home in Texas. You made it seem completely do-able and I’m going to show this to my husband to go on the “someday soon” project list! Thanks for stopping by Front Porch Friday, we’re featuring your post this week.

    • Thank you so much for the feature, Shelle! I am honored. This is really do-able – especially with the knowledge of the guys we bought the system from. They really were helpful there at Windy Nation and we would recommend them anytime! Again, thanks Shelle and thanks for throwing such a fun party!

  10. Hi! I’m stopping by from the grand social to say Hi and I was intrigued by this. My husband and I have been talking about this. Our dream is to go to Alaska one of these days. I can’t wait to see what you do next!

    • So nice to meet you, Rena! My absolute dream home would be in Alaska, but alas, my three sons and four grandchildren all live here in California, so here we stay! I slid on over to your blog because I was so intrigued by the name and I am glad I did. My grandmother died of alzheimer’s at the ripe age of 96, but so far my mother, at the age of 83, seems to be sharp as a tack. Thanks for having a forum to discuss this life-changing topic!

  11. Hi, this is something I really want to do… sorry to be rude but how much did all the solar bits and batteries cost. I am trying to convince my hubby who likes solar but says it’s the batteries that cost a fortune and they need replacing. How long are the batteries expected to last? Thank you so much for this info.

    • Giselle – yes, your husband is right – the batteries are one of the problems with stand alone or off-grid solar. Solar panels and the components that go with it are getting cheaper and cheaper. The good news is that most solar panels are warranted for 20-30 years! The bad news? The marine deep cycle batteries that we use (you can use golf cart batteries, but they are even more expensive) are about $125 – $150 each. We needed four of these batteries for our set-up. And those batteries are usually warranted for only 1-2 years! Yuck! I will tell you, however, that we have some batteries that are on their fourth year and are still doing okay! That’s where the new Tesla battery comes in. It is supposed to be the end-all, be-all of the solar electricity storage problem. We are on the list to get one, but who knows how long that will be. Thanks for your question! Please feel free to write back if you have another!

      • Thank you for the information regarding Tesla batteries. I did some research and the 10 year warranty is a long time! I’m very impressed. I’ll be very interested to know how much that will cost as the system is a very clever idea and I will definitely be looking into it further my end. Thank you!!

  12. Very interesting and informative article. I admire your ingenuity to get off the grid. We have considered trying to change some electrical items over to solar and have checked into it but the cost and where we live it doesn’t seem feasible. Visiting from Simply Natural Saturdays. Pinned

    • Yes – it really does depend on circumstances. It also takes an eye toward the future. Solar electricity can be pricey to start up, but most systems pay for themselves after 4 to 7 years, depending on circumstances. One thing my husband and I were considering is the fact that the electric grid can not always be relied upon up here in the mountains. Also, with our ageing infrastructure, possible terrorism, and the increasing costs of electrical power – we just felt better knowing that if the SHTF (forest fire, lightening striking a power plant, zombie invasion) we would have a reliable way to preserve our food. With the new micro-inverter technology, solar reliability is getting even better for areas that it once wasn’t feasible. Thank you, Marla, for holding such a fun blog party!

  13. My question …how much sunlight do you need in order to be able to depend on solar energy as your source? We live in not-so-sunny Northeast Ohio, notable for our number of cloudy days, due to the effects of lake Erie.

    • There are all kinds of calculators out there on the web that will tell you how much power you can squeeze from the sun. Many of the retailers online can also advise you. The new micro-inverter technology may be a game changer for you, so you might want to look into that also. A lot of solar panels can create electricity even on a cloudy day. I know that solar power isn’t for everyone, and the initial start-up can be costly, but if you are seriously considering using solar energy to power one appliance or an entire house, I would do some research to see what can be done. You might be pleasantly surprised!

  14. Hi Vicki – Popped past here from Leigh’s blog (where you won her giveaway 🙂 )

    Vicki – looking a the pic of your freezer, batteries, charge controller and inverter :

    Firstly, are your batteries directly on a cement floor? If so, it is advisable to put two planks of wood length ways underneath them to prevent contact with the concrete.

    Secondly, the batteries normally give off acid fumes – thus having them so close to the fridge, and with the inverter and charge controller above them, means that the rising battery acid fumes can / will corrode the neighbouring fridge, inverter and charge controller. We learnt that the hard (and expensive way). If possible I would move the batteries away from all three and enclose them in some sort of cupboard with outside ventilation.

    With all those trees around you, have you considered a wood burning stove? We have a large one which we fire up when it’s cold, otherwise we make do with the hob / toaster section from an old caravan stove, as well as the bbq and my solar oven.

    Off grid is very liberating once you’re in the swing of it. With careful use of the power produced, life can be as normal as grid connected 🙂

    • Hello, Dani. Thanks for all the advice! The batteries are actually on a painted wood floor, so that should be okay. Also, after the picture was taken, Ray did box in the batteries. We never thought to vent them because they are in a metal shed that isn’t exactly air-tight, but you make some excellent points and so vent them, we will! You learn something new every day, and today I learned from you – thanks!

  15. My very first large purchase for my new home was a stand up freezer for my garage – an absolute necessity when you are a gardener and cook! I love it, makes my life so much easier. I would really like to get solar panels and I’m looking into options.

    • Yeah – it was an investment, for sure. But, being off-grid, our only other choice was to use a propane powered freezer, and we really want to be less dependent on commercial sources of energy. Through the month of December, and especially near the solstice, we charged the batteries a couple of times with the generator. Not that we HAD to, mind you, because everything was still frozen inside. But we wanted to keep the batteries charged and the freezer frozen “just in case”. Since the sun is already on it’s way back up, the solar panels will be producing more and more energy every day, so we probably won’t need to supplement them again. That is, unless we have a lot of dark, rainy days in a row. Not usual in our area, but it does happen!

    • You know, Kristen, the off-grid, tiny house revolution seems to be getting bigger and bigger! We started out slow with solar and learned by doing along the way. Read everything you can get your hands on so that you understand what solar power can do for you. Find other blogs that are using solar power. With knowledge you will prevent buying unnecessary components or a system that is too large/small for your situation. Thanks for leaving a comment!

  16. I accidentally ran across your blog on solar powering a freezer. I have been wanting to build a system to power my freezers in the event of power outages and would like to know more about what size panels I will need. I have 4 golf cart batteries now . I have been looking for information about how to figure out what size inverter ,panels and how many I would need . I am located in north Georgia and have a decent location for solar.
    thanks
    Marshall

    • Hello, Marshall, thanks for your comments. We learn more every day about powering up with solar. However, if you are connected to the grid and want to use solar as a back-up, there are quite a few requirements for this kind of a system. In most municipalities, you must have a disconnect at your main panel because if your batteries back feed into the system while a utility person is working on the lines, he could be electrocuted. We are totally off-grid. When we got our first solar system, we paid for what my husband called a “toy” – a 45 watt set of panels, inverter and charge controller through Harbor Freight. This system ran our TV. Then we got another one to run our satellite dish. Then another to run the lights and pump in the RV. That’s when we graduated to the larger system for our well pump from Windy Nation. We were so happy with that one, and a bit more confident in our (my husband’s) knowledge of solar power, that we decided to try powering the freezer. It all works so well, we are confident that when we get the system for our new home, we will have all the power we need! As you know, the biggest problem with off-grid solar is the storage! Starting off with 4 golf cart batteries is great and they will work well. We were ready to graduate to a Tesla Power Wall, then found out this past fall that they do not recommend these for off-grid situations. So, we are now looking at a battery from Germany called the SonnenBatterie.

      Oops – I’m getting ahead of myself. Back to your question. I would suggest that you call one of the off-Grid solar companies that are on-line and ask them what size inverter and panels you would need. Call a couple of them so you get a good idea of what you need. Our system is working well. There have been cloudy days in the winter that we needed to boost the batteries with a generator, so you should be prepared for this, just in case.

      • Thank you for responding. I am sort of looking at a way to power my freezers when we have a power outage especially in summer.. I will most likely have it totally separate from the power grid for my safety as much as the power company workers. I could use it in the winter time also to provide lights because my wife has tunnel-vision. I would not need to run the freezers except to maintain their temperature in winter which could be done during the day and I could use the lights at night.
        thanks again
        Marshall

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