A few weeks ago, we bought a 12V electric cooler. It can keep things cool for, well, forever — if you have the juice. Which leads to some serious math. The cooler is rated to 4-ish amps. We’ll have 12V power. If we buy a 100Amp/hour battery we’ll hardly be able to keep the thing charged (with a 20-Watt solar panel), much less power it indefinitely. And if we head up to Alaska where the angle of the sun is so much lower, well … Christ. There are issues.
The whole endeavor just shows how much energy goes into keeping things cool. With its tiny battery, my cell phone can stay on for days keeping me in direct communication with anybody in the world that wants to call. With a fairly sizable battery-solar setup, it’ll be tough to keep our cooler cold for more than 24 hours. But like with many things, the simple solution is usually the best and oftentimes the hardest to see.
“Use ice,” Mark says, after I tell him about my solar panel plans. “Yeah, that’s what I figured we’d use,” says Lisa. Oh, ice. Of course. Available for $1 a bag at every gas station. Ice — they used to harvest slabs of it off Lake Geneva in the winter to ship to Chicago to keep things cool. Ice!
“And, honestly, how much are we going to have to keep cool?” Lisa asks. A good question. How much food will we ever carry? Not much. Most things will be dried or canned. If we buy something fresh, we’ll eat it that day. We’re not going to be ordering take-out, so there go the leftovers. And we’re probably not going to buy beer by the 24-pack or wine by the case. Running the electric cooler will be a periodic luxury. Instead, we’ll stoke the ice box like we’d tend a wood fire. Goodbye, solar cells, inverters, chargers, and complexity. Hello beefy battery for the van and (maybe) a solar charger for our electronics.