Frozen Food Powered from the Sun

Local food truck vendor Glacier Acai recently partnered with Carbon Recall, a solar panel installation company in Kalispell, to provide energy efficiency and a variety of other benefits

By Maggie Dresser
Glacier Acai’s solar powered berry bowl food truck in Columbia Falls on August 11, 2022. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

When Joel Robinson and his wife visited the local food truck vendor, Glacer Acai, to get a frozen berry bowl, he noticed a loud generator and strong fumes.

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

“We had done a little research and knew there was a market for it, but we weren’t quite sure what that meant with panel sizes and inverters.”

Mike Caldwell promised to update Robinson about any potential issues with the new system and to help improve the new food truck design as the guinea pig of the experiment. Other than a few minor kinks, he says it’s boosted the food truck’s energy system.

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

“When I unplug after leaving an event, the freezer stays on and the panels are recharging the battery as we’re driving,” Caldwell said. “It’s nice knowing everything is still powered on.”

Additionally, Caldwell would have had to change the generator oil every 50 hours, which he says would be about once every 10 days.”

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

After a successful installation in Caldwell’s food truck, Robinson is trying to expand to 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, freezers, refrigerator and water pump while eliminating fumes and noise.

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

In addition to its energy efficiency, the solar panel installation 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 is available for systems installed between 2020 and 2022 and a 22% tax credit is available for systems installed in 2023.

Robinson says most solar panel sceptics don’t think that solar panels work in overcast skies, creating a misconception that the energy system doesn’t function well in Montana.

“Our biggest question that 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 well it works, they become interested.”

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

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

Robinson hopes to market Carbon Recall to more food truck customers as he continues to improve the design.

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

For more information, visit www.carbonrecallkalispell.com.