When Joel Robinson and his wife visited a local food truck vendor, Glacer Acai, to pick up a frozen berry bowl, he noticed a powerful generator and heavy smoke.

After speaking with food truck owners, Mike and Amanda Caldwell, Robinson, who owns a solar panel installation company called Carbon Recall, decided to experiment with the design of car solar panels to eliminate noise, smoke and to improve energy efficiency.

“We did a little research and found that there was a market for it, but we weren’t sure what the panel sizes and inverters meant.”

Mike Caldwell promised to update Robinson about any potential issues with the new system and to help develop the new food truck design as a guinea pig in the experiment. Aside from a few minor kinks, he says it boosts the food truck’s energy system.

Now, Caldwell has no use for his power generator, although he carries it as a backup system, and his freezer that stores pure açai and fruits for their business is always on, even though they are driving.

“If I unplug after leaving an event, the freezer stays on and the panels recharge the battery while we’re driving,” Caldwell said. “It’s nice to know that everything is still running.”

In addition, Caldwell has to change the oil in the generator every 50 hours, which he says is about once every 10 days.

“You’re always changing the oil and filling it with gas,” Caldwell said. “It’s an expense.”

After a successful food truck installation in Caldwell, Robinson tried to expand the food truck market after noticing the benefits.

The three solar panels installed on Glacier Acai’s roof power almost 100% of the truck, including the air conditioner, lights, freezer, refrigerator and water pump while eliminating fumes and noise.

A berry bowl from the solar powered food truck at Glacier Acai in Columbia Falls on August 11, 2022. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

In addition to its energy efficiency, the installation of solar panels qualifies customers for a tax credit, which can be claimed on federal income taxes.

According to the Office of Efficiency and Renewable Energy, a 26% tax credit will be available for systems installed between 2020 and 2022 and a 22% tax credit will be available for systems that have been installed in 2023.

Robinson says most solar panel skeptics don’t think solar panels work in cloudy skies, which creates a misconception that the energy system is bad in Montana.

“Our biggest question we get is if solar works in Montana,” Robinson said. “We have a lot of education to do but once we talk to people about how good it is, they will be interested.”

During the peak summer months, the sun can shine for 15 hours per day, allowing the panels to produce more energy than the clients can use. While the winter months offer shorter and cloudier days, Robinson says new technology makes solar panels more sensitive to light.

The panels have also become less expensive in recent years, with costs falling between 60% and 80% over the past decade, according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

Robinson hopes to sell the Carbon Recall to more food truck customers as he continues to develop the design.

“We’re definitely talking to other vendors and trying to understand the different types of food trucks and who would benefit the most,” Robinson said. “Anyone who runs a refrigerator can really benefit from solar panels.”

For more information, visit www.carbonrecallkalispell.com.

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