We just don’t have enough power to run an electric fridge or freezer here. So how do we survive without a powered fridge? I searched for a while to find a simple off-grid solution to keeping our food and milk cool.
Even the most energy efficient electric refrigerator unit uses at least 30 watts which isn’t that much but it is on all the time. So 30 x 24 hours is 720 watts or 0.72Kw per day. A larger unit or a combined fridge freezer is more likely to use 200w or more per hour so we are looking at several kilowatts per day. My little off-grid generation system would be sucked dry. I could add more solar panels but living in one of the most overcast rainy parts of Europe limits my potential power generation capacity somewhat.
So I thought about a gas fridge. Lots of camper van type vehicles have gas powered fridges that run on LPG/propane. Trouble is then I’d not only have to pay for the gas but would be emitting several kilograms of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every day (plus some nitrous oxides inside the house as well).
Maybe there was another way….
So I had a think, what did I need a fridge for? In my previous on-grid life I had a huge fridge freezer. In it I kept milk, lots of long expired jars of things I had been given and some sort of unidentified mouldy stuff in the back. It also had a freezer, which had my supply of ready meals and a couple of kilograms of ice encrusted onto the side walls. Not exactly a good use of space or energy. So really I only needed to keep some milk and a few perishables cool for a few days at a time. If only I could keep food cool without any power input?
The solution has been an evaporative cooling set up. An idea I borrowed from an African aid work website. It is a pot within a pot (sometimes called a zeer pot). A slightly smaller terracotta pot sits within a larger one and the inch or so or space between the two is filled with sand. The sand is wetted with water and a lid put over the whole thing (or a damp cloth). The pots are put in the shade somewhere. Ours is outside the back door. The water evaporates and as it does it draws the heat out of the inside pot, keeping the contents cool.
It really does work! In the summer you have to remember to water it, in the winter it doesn’t need it. The biggest hassle is having to open the back door to get anything from it. Oh, and not having a freezer, we just had to give up on home ice cream for that one.
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