This is a very popular question these days. Your fridge is one of your home’s central appliances, and is one of the tools that comes in very handy when you are living through a prolonged power outage. Not to mention avoiding food spoilage!
Choose a Backup Timeline
Let’s start with a little scenario…
It’s 6pm on a stormy Tuesday in early December. Power goes out.
What do you do?
Usually nothing, right? It will come back on. You dig the flashlight out of the drawer, light a few candles, look out the window to check on the neighbours (really just to make sure their houses are dark too). Read the paper by flashlight (oops, batteries are getting weak). Cellular is still up, so you text and call a few people.
An hour goes by.
You hear your spouse or kids in the kitchen and call out “don’t open the fridge, you’ll let all the cold air out!”
Then it hits you… an hour is OK, but what if this goes on a lot longer?
Suddenly you’re in a Seinfeld episode, wondering how serious the expiration dates on milk cartons are. What about that leftover salmon?
Another hour goes by.
Your call is important to the utility company, but they don’t answer. Their website gives vague answers about when they expect to have the power back on.
Another hour goes by.
Now you can’t call or text anyone, and can’t access the internet, because you forgot to charge your phone when you got home from work, and now the battery is dead. On the bright side, the soft ice cream from the freezer is delicious.
After another hour, you call it a day. You’ll deal with this in the morning.
Let’s now consider some ways to avoid all this…
Back-Up Level 1 : Peace Of Mind
In this scenario, we trust that the power will come back on within a few hours like it always does. Our goal is to keep food from spoiling in the fridge, and to be able to charge cell phones and perhaps run a couple of table lamps. A standard fridge will consume approximately 1200Wh in a 12-hour period, while a small chest freezer will be perhaps half of this. Lamps with LED bulbs, plus phone charging will be small in comparison, so we’ll budget 2,000Wh in total to cover 12 hours.
Power Requirement : 1,000W (must cover fridge compressor surge at start-up)
Energy Requirement : 2,000Wh
Ports : 120V AC outlets for appliances, and USB for personal electronics
Portable power boxes are ideal for this type of back-up. Bring them out of the closet when you need to use them. They double as camping or outdoor rec power systems. They hold their charge very well – charge them in October prior to storage, and they will be ready.
Goal Zero Yeti 3000X (18-hour solution)
Goal Zero Yeti 1500X (9-hour solution)
Goal Zero Yeti 1000X (6-hour solution)
These power packs feature a built-in solar charge controller, so if you ever wanted to add solar charging to extend your back-up capability, or summer recreation use, you can.
You can also back-up the power box with a generator if the utility blackout is unusually long. No need to unplug the power station from appliances when you do this – power flows through with excess filling the battery. And this makes optimal use of your generator fuel since you are using the generator power to run loads AND charge the battery, and do not need to run it continuously.
Back-Up Level 2 : Select House Circuits
In this scenario, we don’t want to fiddle with running extension cables across the kitchen from our backup power station to our appliances. We’ll have an electrician wire a ‘critical loads panel’ alongside our main service panel and move key circuits like the fridge over to the critical panel. We’ll use a special kind of critical loads panel that allows us to plug the output from our backup power box into it to run those key circuits (you can also plug a generator into it). During an outage, you simply throw the switch on the critical panel to have it take power from your backup power box instead of your main service panel, plug-in your power box and turn it on. Your key circuits operate as normal.
Any of the above power stations, and the…
Home Integration Kit
Your power pack operates normally, input & output work at the same time, so go ahead and plug solar into it if you wish. You can also still charge your power station from a generator if the power outage lingers on – power flows through to your key circuits and charges the power station battery.
Back-Up Level 3 : Partial Home / Whole Home
This is a far more integrated and involved configuration. Basically, you operate your whole home, or a portion of your home (ie critical loads) from a system that resembles an off-grid residence. Since you have a grid connection, the system can use the grid, a generator, and solar as input sources. You get to select the priority order of each input source, so you can be as independent as you wish with as much of your home as you wish. The energy your generate is energy you don’t need to buy from the utility, and you don’t need any special buy/sell agreement with them, just normal safety authority permits.
In our calculation above that includes the fridge, freezer, and a few lights and personal electronics, we could design an off-grid solar energy system that supports those loads. We’ll take an economical approach by sizing the solar to offset through the peak solar months of March-September. We’ll still get the odd stretch of bad weather, and the system will be in deficit during the winter – our goal is to take these major appliances off our utility bills for most of the year.
For most Canadian lower-latitudes, two 400W solar modules and a couple of deep-cycle Lithium batteries will do the job. The inverter/charger and other components will resemble our Socrates 1200 system. The solar charges the battery which drives the inverter to power your loads. Should the solar fall behind, the inverter/charger will open the grid input (or generator input) automatically to bring the battery up to ‘full’, then revert back to coasting on solar.
By taking your fridge & freezer off your utility bill for most of the year, your utility savings will help cover the cost of the backup system. Add to this the cost of food not spoiling, and the peace of mind that comes with having access to energy during a grid outage.
Hopefully this article has helped illustrate what’s possible.
If you’d like to discuss your situation and desired level of backup in more detail, please feel free to send us an email.