Propane versus Electric Fridge

A common discussion when talking about Boondocking is what kind of refrigerator to get. The traditional RV refrigerator using the absorption cycle is often referred to as a requirement to Boondock because of the high consumption of residential refrigerators. With a very minimal solar and battery setup can this be true, but for anything trying to run the whole rig on solar power is the absorption cycle very wasteful the only good thing is that it can run on propane. The last months have we been staying together with another RV and have been able to compare absorption and compressor refrigerators power consumption with a similar outside temperature.

So the three tested refrigerators are:
1: Norcold 2118, 18.3 cubic feet of internal space with no water cooling or ice machine.
2: Fisher & Paykel RF201ADJSX5, 20.7 cubic feet of internal space with no water cooling or ice machine.
3: ARB Classic Series II 12/24/120 volt 50 quarts chest fridge 1.7 cubic feet of internal space.
The Norcold and Fisher & Paykel have a similar outside dimension, but because of the compressor based cooling taking up a lot less space is the useful volume 13% higher. One of the other major benefits is the deeper shelves that for example allow a 12-inch pizza box to be stored in the refrigerator. Both refrigerators are expensive in the $2000+ range.

The ARB chest is a similar size to a large cooler, but of course, does not require buying 10 pounds of ice every 2-3 days. This is not really a replacement for the Norcold, but if only a few milk or juice bottles and some vegetables need to be cooled is it possible to use this when boondocking. This fridge is also expensive close to $1000.

Below is a summary of the power consumed in a 14 day period. The RV with the absorption refrigerator has 6 Battleborn Lithium batteries and 3000 watts of solar. Even with this large setup has it not been able to run it 24/7. The consumption for the same time and for the complete day is included and compared for the two electric refrigerators.

Looking at this is a compressor-based refrigerator using only 1/6 of the electricity compared for the whole day and if a small chest fridge is enough 1/30 of the electricity. So not looking at the other features is an absorption fridge a huge power hog and almost impossible to run from solar power.

The absorption refrigerator can of course run from propane. A $15, 30 pound, propane tank with 7 gallons last 7-10 days. This makes a weekly trip to a refill and a $2 per day cost. Using an ice chest with 10 pounds of ice needed every two days is the cost of $1 a day plus the cost of driving every second day to get ice. This can very fast make a good case for the compressor based refrigerator that can easily be powered overnight by adding 2 extra batteries and 400 watts of extra solar panels to recharge them. Even needing to run a generator for some time in the winter is not going to cost nearly the same as the constant drain on propane.


2 thoughts on “Propane versus Electric Fridge”

  1. Interesting, however I am wondering why your propane refrigerator is taking so much propane. I have an 8 cu ft propane fridge/freezer with ice maker and a 30lb tank of propane would easily last me 3+ weeks as my fridge averages about 1/4 gal (1-2 lbs) a day, or if running it on electric it consumes 300 watts when the heating coil is on. There must be a huge variance between absorption propane refrigerators?

    1. The Norcold 2118 is 20 cubic feet and your is around 1/3 of that size. So consuming twice the propane is what I would assume.

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