How Long Will a 12 Volt Battery Run a Refrigerator?

So you are going on a camping trip and have a 12-volt battery and a refrigerator.

In this article, I’m going to breakdown what you need to know and answer your question:

How long will a 12 volt battery run a refrigerator?

Step 1: Estimate the Energy consumption of the fridge

There are many types of fridges. Big, small, top loader, front loader, 12 volts DC, 110 volts AC, …

They will all have a different power consumption. Their power consumption will also depend on environmental factors like heat, ability to vent, sun exposure, efficiency, … Just to name a few.

If we look at the CFX-40W (40 quarts or 20 liters), an efficient top-loading fridge on Amazon.com, we can see that they will consume about 0.74 Ah on 12 Volts. This means that the fridge will consume 9 Watts per hour or 216 Watts per day. This includes running and idling time.

You need to figure out how much power your fridge consumers. Be careful, the rating of a fridge will not be an accurate measure of its total power consumption. The compressor will not always run because once the temperature has been reached, it shuts off. This can be seen in the following image:

running times of a refrigerator
running times of a refrigerator

If you want to take a fridge with you that you already have at home, it can be helpful to plug it in a Kill A Watt meter to measure daily consumption before you hit the road.

Tip: you don’t need an inverter if you use a fridge with a 12-volt plug.

Step 2: Size your Battery Bank

In the next step, we are going to determine how big your battery needs to be to supply the fridge with electricity.

The question you need to ask yourself is how long do I want to run my fridge on the battery?

Your answer can be one day or even a week. The longer it needs to run on the batteries, the bigger your battery needs to be.

The following is best explained with an example.

I’m going to camp for the weekend and I am going to bring the CFX-40W with me. The fridge consumes 9 watts per hour and it will run for 24 hours each day. This means that the fridge will consume 216-watt hours per day. Let’s assume this is tested in a laboratory where the outer temperature is 90°F or 32°C. Let’s use a little bit of safe space to account for opening and closing the fridge, assuming 250 watt-hours per day.

We need to know the number of amp-hours we need for our battery. You need to divide the number of watt-hours by the voltage.

250 watt-hours / 12 volts = 20.8 Amp-hours

If you are using a lead-acid battery, you can only use 50% of its capacity.

20.8 amp-hours x (100%/50%) = 41.6 Ah

If you are using a lithium battery, you can use 80% of its capacity.

20.8 watt-hours x (100%/80%) = 26 Ah

Days of Running

Next, you decide the number of days you need to run the fridge. In our example, it was a weekend trip so it’s two days.

For Lead-acid:

41.6 Ah x 2 = 83.2 Ah

For Lithium:

26 Ah x 2 = 52 Ah

Battery Efficiency

Next, we need to consider the efficiency of the battery. For a lead-acid battery, the efficiency is 80%, for lithium, this is 99%.

For Lead-acid:

83.2 Ah x 1.25 = 104 Ah

For Lithium:

52 Ah x 1.01 = 52.52 Ah

Conclusion

You need a lead-acid battery of 104 Ah to run an efficient top-loading fridge for two days.

If you are using a lithium battery, you need 52.52 Ah battery to run the same fridge for two days.

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