With current and pending regulations focusing heavily on energy-efficiency, growers should be looking into more energy-friendly production methods. Cannabis growers that produce in a greenhouse are able to provide top-notch bud year-round, but this is the time of the year where their operations absolutely thrive.
Greenhouse producers know that as the days get longer their profits get larger. While others are happy just to be growing again, greenhouse growers are able to dial back their supplemental lighting requirements by allowing their plants to bask in the natural sunlight. When combined with sound growing practices, utilizing the late winter and early spring’s longer days can allow operations to realize their lowest cost per gram without sacrificing quality, allowing them to bring the most profitable bud to market.
There’s no doubt that when grown indoors cannabis is one of the most energy-intensive crops. Strains on the energy grid are major concerns for states that have legalized and are looking to legalize. One of the biggest issues facing the industry is that since production has been underground for so long, precise data on energy needs is scarce.
In February of 2017 the California Public Utilities Commission held a workshop to discuss how they could support a productive cannabis industry, while still meeting the state’s clean energy goals. Perhaps the biggest take away from the workshop was that there is a near total lack of reliable data on the industry’s energy consumption. There are a number of factors that have played into this, but for the most part the lack of data pertains to both the states and growers rushing to get the industry off the ground.
Some data that was presented at the workshop is broad and nondescript to say the least, but we can still learn from it. Data from California’s medical marijuana program showed in 2012 when medicinal marijuana was legal, but recreational was not; indoor cannabis was responsible for about 3 percent of California’s electrical consumption, which is equal to approximately one million California homes.
It was also stated that Denver’s cannabis industry totals about two percent of its energy needs. Between 2012 and 2013, Denver’s electrical requirements rose 1.2 percent, and it’s believed that about 50 percent of this is attributable to new cannabis cultivation.
One of the leading studies about the energy needs of cannabis is a few years old, so stats on how much electricity the industry consumes are no longer relevant. But the research conducted by Energy Associates and Evan Mills, PhD. still provides insight into the energy required for production.
From this study, growers learned that the production of one joint represents 10 pounds of CO2, which is equal to running a 100 W bulb for 75 hours. The group has since stated that this statistic is significantly higher, because they had initially estimated that a joint was approximately 1/3 of a gram, but joints on the market today are much closer to a gram.
More interestingly though was the fact that indoor grow spend $55 per square foot a year, while greenhouse grows were spending a mere $5 per square foot. This in part is because greenhouse growers are able to utilize natural sunlight and do not depend on artificial lighting in the same way that their indoor counterparts do. This summarizes perfectly why growers in any region can benefit from the days becoming longer.
Will Kacheris, who designs greenhouse and hydroponic systems for GrowSpan Greenhouse Structures, said, “If growing in a controlled environment, the grower can take advantage of the longer days by cutting back on the time supplemental lighting needs to be used in order to satisfy their desired photo period. Cutting down on artificial lighting sources can cut an annual operational budget by up to 25 percent. Understanding the power of the sun in your exact location will also change your greenhouse lighting strategy, but planning for supplemental lighting versus sole-source lighting will also reduce the number of fixtures needed.”
While cannabis has been grown using natural light for thousands of years, and some United States growers prefer it, it still hasn’t become a preferred method. However, besides reducing the energy requirements of a given grow, greenhouse growing provides plants with the sun’s full spectrum of light. It also allows growers to create a completely controlled and automated environment, leading to larger plants that require less supervision. When you combine these benefits with the techniques of an experienced grower, operations can experience superior growth and efficiency.
“With more sunlight, growers can dose CO2 and as long as the nutrients are in check, this will result in a linear increase in plant growth. If doing one large harvest of the entire flowering area, plan your clones and vegging plants, so that you can take advantage of the free sunlight, instead of operating larger grow lightings during the darker seasons,” said Kacheris.
While nothing can beat natural light in terms of spectrum and the intensity delivered, sometimes it isn’t enough to produce reliably on a commercial scale. Because of this greenhouse growers that want a reliable crop on a year-round basis will never be able to completely eliminate lighting. But introducing a detailed LED lighting strategy can create a year-round production powerhouse that is still energy-efficient.
Many growers have been hesitant to adopt an LED strategy, but over the past decade the technology has developed and made them a much better option for experienced growers that know how to use LEDs to their full potential. LED lighting provides an energy efficient lighting strategy and can allow growers to focus on the specific lighting needs of their plants. With the right brand or model, LEDs can emit blue, green, yellow, orange, red and far red making them incredibly versatile.
This means cannabis growers can mimic the sun’s natural light and provide waves that are beneficial for both the vegetative and flowering stages. Growers frequently provide blue light during the vegetative stage, because this is what the plant gets the most of early in the season when the sun is still high. During the flowering stage, a red light is preferred to mimic the suns lower angle. Of course, every grower has their specific and in depth lighting preferences and this is just a broad example of how growers can harness the technological benefits of LEDs.
While LEDs are energy efficient, they can’t reach their peak potential without a well-thought out and meticulously designed strategy. Obviously growers want to get the lights directly to their plants, but it is still surprising how many operations have excess light on their floors or walls where it doesn’t benefit the crop.
It is also essential that lighting strategies take the actual lighting being used into account, as Kacheris stressed, “A well-developed lighting plan, utilizing the actual light of a specific grow light will maximize efficiency when compared to rule of thumb lighting footprints. Determining the best light source is dependent largely on the budget of the operation and how experienced the grower is. LEDs have been proven to increase yields, but really only under experienced growers that understand the difference.”
Growers that integrate lighting into a greenhouse system also benefit from the ability to automate the lighting schedule, intensity, wavelengths and more. This means they can dial in their lighting for peak efficiency and align it with the days as they start getting longer. Besides achieving superior efficiency, perhaps the best part of syncing a natural lighting with a detailed and automated lighting plan is that it frees up growers to focus on other growing or business needs.
Creating an operation that can benefit from increased sunlight is a great way to improve the functionality of any cannabis growing operation. As the days get longer greenhouse grows are reveling in the increased efficiency that they experience during this time of year. Utilizing the sun’s natural light and combining it with a well-developed lighting plan allows growers to reduce their cost per gram and increase profits without losing the overall quality of their bud. On top of all this, using these techniques to grow will make it much easier to meet the current or future energy regulations.
Christopher Machnich is a digital marketing manager for GrowSpan Greenhouse Structures (GrowSpan.com) and a cannabis industry enthusiast. His points of interest are greenhouse and hydroponic production, as well as the cultural and economic impact of cannabis legislation.