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Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Refrigeration on the go



The veggie van has a good sized 12 volt cooler. It works well, is solidly constructed, and has plenty of room. The problem is that it's a thermoelectric cooler. Those work using a Peltier plate module that directly turns electricity into cold and heat. One side of the module gets cool and the other side gets hot. Usually there are heat sinks and a fan to dissipate the heat. The big problem with these is that they are power hogs, usually drawing around 6 amps of power. That's a lot.

It's fine when my van is running and it's plugged into the van's 12 volt circuit. Most vehicle alternators have no difficulty keeping up with the demand. The problem is that if the cooler is still drawing power when the car is off. It can kill your starting battery in a few hours.

My van has a 106 watt solar panel charging a separate 12 volt battery. If it's a sunny day the panel can just about keep up. Of course, the battery is drained when the sun goes down. The next day the panel cannot run the cooler and put much power in the battery. The cooler is well insulated so sometimes I can get away with just unplugging the cooler during the cool nights. When the sun comes up it's plugged back in. I can get away with it off-grid for a few days, but by then the battery is getting low. Heaven help you if it's cloudy or your solar panel is shaded by trees.

They do make more efficient coolers that are actually mini refrigerators with small low energy drawing compressors. Not only do they use a lot less energy, they do a better job cooling and often can even be used as freezers. Thermoelectric coolers never have that capacity.

The problem is that a decent thermoelectric cooler can often be had for around $100. Even entry level compressor types are at least 4 or 5 times that price. That's the only thing keeping me from changing over. Even with the price difference, I'm very tempted to upgrade to a compressor type. Much depends on how primitive we decide to camp this coming winter. If we stay at a campground with electricity, it's easy to use a 120 AC to 12 DC converter.

The best part of having an electric cooler is not having to deal with ice. It didn't take me long to get sick of having to always hunt down expensive ice that melted and made my food soggy. If I want to deal with ice I could always stay home in New Hampshire during the winter.

-Sixbears

14 comments:

  1. If I ever put together any kind of camper vehicle I'm coming to you for advice.

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  2. The logistics of living for a lengthy period in an RV are daunting. Unless you are fabulously wealthy and can buy the ones in the shows on television. Few of us fit into that category.

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    1. It all depends on the level of comfort you want to achieve. I'm doing it for months on end on the cheap.

      I find it more comfortable not to worry about dealing with an expensive RV. The sad secret of expensive RVs is that most of them have terrible reliability. You are better off in a homemade rig.

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  3. Replies
    1. My lovely wife and I have to sit down and figure out if we will be doing enough remote camping to justify upgrades.

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  4. A little off-topic but I thought it is important.
    I came across this video when watching my favorite Van Dwellers YouTube channels. In the one(link attaché) is a woman who’s been dealing with Fibromyalgia for years. She tested a combination of over the counter supplements and is doing much better. Thought you’d like the link for your wife.

    “Finally I share more about Kyani and how it beat Fibromyalgia symptoms!”
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hL8oQcpq0oQ

    RV Joey channel link:
    https://www.youtube.com/user/westrom1/featured

    Mike

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    Replies
    1. Thank You. I shall pass that on to the lovely wife.

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  5. Having to rely on ice can be a real bummer...and expensive!

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  6. Thank you for the first hand information, much appreciated. It looks like the compressor style portables use around half the power and provide more cool, at a much higher price.

    If I set up my van like I'm planning, I'll avoid the thermoelectric if possible. Expensive - buy once, cry once.

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    Replies
    1. You did my whole blog in two short paragraphs. :)

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  7. I'm on my second 12v peltier cooler in 15 years and it's showing it's age. If I have acces to power it's great. If I don't it'll get warm by lunch at the track. I've got two friends now with compressor fridges and solar setups on their RV/trailer and they love them. Much lower overall power draw, much faster initial cool down. The only downsides are weight and cost but given I'm spending more time at places without power... I really want one.

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    Replies
    1. I really want one too. Might even be able to justify it if we spend enough time off-grid.

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