It’s a fact: growing cannabis indoors consumes vast amounts of electricity. Indoor cultivators run powerful lights for several hours per day to mimic the sun’s intensity and, in some cases, these lights are even more intense than what is found in the natural world. The requirement for constant and high-quality light results in ballooning electrical usage, and because electricity in several states is still mostly derived from coal-powered plants, a massive carbon footprint to match.
There are several reasons cannabis professionals choose to grow indoors.
- With a completely controlled environment, harvests aren’t impacted by inclement or unpredictable weather, and they are at lower risk for pest infestation.
- Cannabis cultivated at an indoor site is generally better quality, fetching a higher price on the market.
- Some studies indicate that indoor grow facilities save more water than traditional agricultural models, as water is easily recaptured, filtered and cycled back through the facility.
- With increasing automation and technological advancements, there’s more that can be programmed for your grow and less hands-on labor needed.
As it stands, cannabis is still unavoidably energy-intensive. With a stubborn, nationwide dependency on coal, any light we turn on will be associated with carbon emissions for now. However, this reveals an opportunity for innovation to step in where policy hasn’t.
The cannabis industry has already revolutionized the way we think about medicine — it also has the potential to change how we think about horticulture. Because of indoor growers’ heavy reliance on lighting to replace the sun’s energy, one of the most effective ways to reduce your facility’s carbon footprint while still maintaining crop quality is to install LED lights. With that said, not all LEDs are the same.
42,000 Kilowatt-Hours and 43,700 Pounds of Carbon Dioxide per Month
Data collected by the Boulder County Energy Impact Offset Fund, a program designed to educate and encourage environmentally conscious choices, found:
- In 2016, the average 5000-square foot indoor cannabis facility consumed around 42,000 kilowatt-hours (kWh) monthly. To compare, the average household in Boulder consumes about 630 kWh in the same time span.
- Because most of the electricity fueling indoor grow facilities comes from coal plants, indoor cannabis facilities contribute around 43,700 pounds of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere per month.
- As of 2017, Boulder County regulated cannabis cultivation and processing facilities collectively consumed 49,291 kWh of electricity per day.
Of course, different states are going to have varying consumption based on legalization and business capabilities, but the information provided by Boulder County illustrates just how much energy indoor cannabis facilities can potentially consume: a lot. And as demand for cannabis grows, electrical consumption is going to increase with the industry. Relying on outdated technologies and methods doesn’t only result in a large carbon footprint, but an expensive electrical bill, too.
Research Supports LEDs as the Most Sustainable Option
Growers can reduce their emissions and see lower costs over time by installing efficient LED lights. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, “LEDs offer the potential for cutting general lighting energy use nearly in half by 2030, saving energy dollars and carbon emissions in the process.”
Further, a study released in early 2018 by the Department of Energy found LEDs have vast potential for indoor horticulture as a whole. All three categories of indoor grows were considered: greenhouses, where LEDs were used as supplemental lighting, non-stacked indoor farms and vertical farms with multiple tiers.
The study’s findings included:
- In each of the three categories, LED lighting offers 24% to 30% reduction in electricity consumption per square-foot of grow area.
- In 2017, horticultural lighting installations in the U.S. consumed a total of 5.9 terawatt hours (TWh) of electricity per year, which is equal to 61 trillion Btu (tBtu) of source energy consumption. Of this, 89% came from lighting in non-stacked indoor farms, 10% from supplemental lighting in greenhouses and 1% from lighting in vertical farms.
- Vertical farms see the highest adoption of LED grow light technology (66%).
- If all horticultural lighting today was converted to LED technology, annual horticultural lighting consumption would be reduced to 3.6 TWh, or 37 tBtu, representing energy savings of 40% or $240 million.
LED lights bring numerous other benefits to the grow space, lessening the facility’s impact and lowering associated costs. Among these include a much cooler operational temperature than other lighting options such as high-pressure sodium (HPS) lights. Without excessive heat emitted by bulbs, growers can reduce the power allotted to energy-intensive environmental controls like air conditioning.
Improved Efficiency, Processes Set Growers Up for Success
Installing LED lights is only the first step eco-conscious growers can take toward truly “greening” their grow facility. They also need to take full advantage of the capabilities only some LEDs bring to the table, while also employing cutting-edge tactics. This combination of finding the right LEDs and utilizing them in the right ways can reduce a grow facility’s carbon footprint even more — and potentially boost potency and yields.
Firstly, ensure the LEDs you decide to purchase are built with durability and efficacy in mind, like those from ProGrowTech. Both of our lines, EV and Monarch, are leading the industry in terms of quality and longevity.
Consider these features:
- Industrial-grade materials: By installing LEDs constructed from industrial-grade materials, you’ll get reliability, durability and the upfront costs will pay off with time. Don’t settle for lower-grade LED lights — you risk crop quality and may spend more money fixing or replacing them down the road.
- Waterproofing: In a facility that sees daily watering and some fluctuations in humidity, give yourself peace of mind by seeking out LEDs that are IP65 or 1P66-certified.
- Uniformity: Superior uniformity needs to be a priority for serious growers. Request photosynthetic photon flux density (PPFD) measurements for the lights you’re considering. This metric reveals how many photosynthetically active photons are produced by the light, therefore revealing how effective they are for plant growth.
Next, growers can examine their day-to-day processes, finding areas to cut down on electricity use. More studies are highlighting cannabis plants’ need for intense light, but also at the right spectrum through each stage of plant development.
- Gradual Increases and Decreases in Light: Inundating your crop with constant, aggressive light only naturally found at the height of summer isn’t going to do you much good — and could end up harming your plants. Rather, some growers have incorporated spectral sunrises and sunsets, and simulated indoor seasons, to gradually build to the intensity that a plant needs to flourish.
- Using Spectrally Tunable Lights to Eliminate the “Veg Room”: Growers can use one grow room to nurture plants from infancy through flowering. This approach, pioneered by ProGrowTech, consolidates the crop, cutting down on energy usage, labor (no replanting) and encourages resiliency in the plants against pests and disease.
LED Illuminates the Way Forward
In 2016, California legalized recreation marijuana with Proposition 64, as one of the largest markets in the world to do so.
California legislators also were attuned to the growing concern about indoor cannabis cultivation’s impact on the environment and its vast electrical consumption. So, in 2018, legislators banned the use of HPS bulbs at cultivation sites. According to the California Energy Commission, “New lighting technology has become more efficient than old-fashioned incandescent bulbs. Approximately 90% of the electricity used by traditional incandescent bulbs is wasted as heat instead of visible light. Replacing traditional incandescent light bulbs with more efficient halogen, compact fluorescent bulbs (CFL) or light-emitting diode (LED) bulbs will save consumers money while still offering same amount of light.”
Moreover, LEDs have become increasingly affordable. Sustainability is no longer relegated to large, already-established cannabis enterprises. ProGrowTech’s newest fixture, Monarch, meets the needs of a full range of cultivation operations at a more affordable price point.
In essence, LEDs are the leading lighting technology on the market for growers who want less work, fewer carbon emissions and more savings. If we want to see the cannabis industry continue to expand, we also need to demand sustainable, conscientious choices that are good for the grower, the consumer and the earth.