A Net Zero Vision

With Carbon Recall, local entrepreneur Joel Robinson is helping Flathead Valley residents reduce their carbon footprint and electric bills with solar panels

By Maggie Dresser
Joel Robinson of Carbon Recall stands under a large residential solar array his company installed at a home in Evergreen on Feb. 4, 2022. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

As solar panels continue to drop in cost and evolve into more efficient tools to create electricity, local Kalispell businessman Joel Robinson is taking advantage of the green technology, launching Carbon Recall in Kalispell last year to bring renewable energy to the Flathead Valley.

According to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, solar panel costs have reduced between 60% and 80% over the past decade.

Using rooftop and ground mounted solar panels, Robinson has a vision to reach net zero among his clients using a net metering billing system, which banks solar energy into the electric grid.

During the summer months when the sun can shine for 15 hours, Robinson says solar panels can allow clients to create more energy than they can use, which utility companies will credit toward their electric bill.

“It really works well in Montana,” Robinson said. “During those really long, bright sunny days, that solar is just cranking and with the net metering, that extra solar is banked till the winter.”

Despite the Flathead Valley’s overcast skies in the winter, Robinson says recent technology makes the solar panels far more sensitive to light and allows them to function even with a layer of snow on top.

Upon installation, Robinson first reviews the customer’s electric bill and he asks them what their energy reduction goals are. He says some clients want to go completely net zero while others only want a portion of their energy consumption to be solar based. The electric bill provides a starting point for the customer’s needs, which is followed by a site assessment.

Robinson then flies a drone around the property to determine the best panel installation location and what type of setup is needed. Some clients have rooftop panels, which absorb the most light on south facing roofs, while others are ground mounted.

In addition to solar panels, Robinson also offers a variety of services that use clean energy including a ductless mini split, which connects to the panels and creates localized heating and air conditioning units.

“It’s a heat pump that pairs with solar because it provides heating and air conditioning that runs on electric,” Robinson said. “It’s really great especially in the summer because a lot of people don’t have air conditioning and it’s been so hot lately.”

With a unit installed on the outside of a house, hot or cool air is transferred with a compressor, functioning in the same way that a refrigerator does.

The solar panels can also pair with hot water heaters, which uses the same technology, and are part of Robinson’s purchasing packages for clients. Since traditional water heaters use significant energy, his efficient heaters reduce the energy consumed and result in a need for fewer solar panels.

“That’s where the balancing act comes in,” Robinson said.

Robinson’s clientele ranges from commercial property owners and individuals who want to reduce their carbon footprint to folks who don’t want an electric bill, as well as off-the-grid customers in search of energy independence.

Batteries can be added to solar panel packages to shore up the power source during outages. Since many rural residences in Montana often lose power for multiple days during an outage, Robinson says they are gaining popularity.

As Robinson grows his business, he eventually envisions an electric-run world, from solar powered homes to electric vehicles.

“That’s the vision,” Robinson said. “It will take many years to get to but through this business that’s the lens that we see things through. People worry about global warming or have anxiety about the future of fossil fuels and the variability in fuel prices. Their budgets are affected negatively and solar pins that cost on a flatline.”

For more information, visit www.carbonrecallkalispell.com.