Abstract Experimental investigation and performance analysis on a solar cell driven, thermoelectric refrigerator has been conducted. Research interest focused on testing the system performance under sunshine. Experiment results demonstrated that the unit could maintain the temperature in the refrigerator at 5–10°C, and have a COP about 0.3. Further analysis indicated that the performance of the system is strongly dependent on intensity of solar insolation and temperature difference of hot and cold sides for the thermoelectric module, etc. There exist optimum solar insolation rates, which let the cooling production and COP achieve maximum value, respectively. It was expected that the refrigerator would be potential for cold storage of vaccine, food and drink in remote area, or outdoor conditions where electric power supply is absent.