Indoor-grown marijuana is an energy-hungry leviathan. A national study released by the U.S. Department of Energy reports that a full one percent of the U.S. electric grid is now dedicated to growing cannabis. Equivalent to the energy output of 1.7 million American homes (and counting) the emerging industry is putting a significant strain on the national power grid and is the country’s most energy-intensive crop at a cost of nearly $6 billion annually.
For decades, the traditional indoor grow light of choice has been high-intensity discharge (HID) lamps. The same sodium lamps that illuminate a majority of world’s city streets have for years been lighting grow rooms from San Diego to Syracuse. Meant to mimic the intense rays of the sun, flowering rooms equipped with HIDs — typically outfitted with multiple lamps burning for 12 hours at a time — require continuous air conditioning and de-humidification. And all that usage translates to excessive power waste. LED lighting, on the other hand, consumes less power and emits far less heat, which means greater return to the grower’s bottom line.
Because common cultivator wisdom follows the philosophy of ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,’ there’s a pervasive reticence to switch to new tech and invite the high cost of re-outfitting a grow room. But with the ever-expanding evidence around global warming, and subsequent soaring cost of electricity, LEDs are in the limelight as a more sustainable approach to indoor cultivation.
Head grower Kevin Biernacki at The Grove Nevada’s 50,000-sqft. cultivation facility was interested in LED and looking for low-heat, cost-saving lights during the manufacture of their vertical-grow site in Las Vegas. “We really needed a multi-tiered system that wouldn’t cook the roots above,” he says.
Stacking grow racks in tiers means the Grove can double or triple their square footage — and vastly increase profits at the same time. Biernacki says he went through a host of LED companies, putting each to the test with side-by-side independent lamp tests. He explains why, after an exhaustive search, they ended up purchasing 650 LED grow lights from the company Heliospectra.
“It really came down to grams per watt,” he says. “Also, we liked that Heliospectra [LED] lights allow you to customize light recipes, which other people simply don’t have.”
The Grove is now able to design light combinations that mimic sunrise, mid-day and sunset, combined with a “far red push” during the last few weeks of flowering. “The last three weeks of harvest we are able to push the light spectrum a little differently,” says Biernacki. “At the very end, we are getting that far red and we are able to speed up the product to harvest.”
Affecting harvest times by as much as one full week shaved from a 10-week flowering period, the dollars saved speak for themselves. Biernacki says it was also important to the Grove to consult other commercial cultivators who use Heliospectra’s LED lights, like Pink House in Colorado, and found that the growers were “continually expanding their number of Heliospectra lights. We obviously looked at that as very positive,” he says.
“It was a little daunting at first to learn how to manipulate lighting,” says Biernacki, “but we soon learned that with the click of a button we could change the light recipes.” He adds that the Grove’s first harvest with LEDs yielded a strain with a whopping 10 percent myrcene cannabinoid level and another boasting a powerhouse 31.4 percent of THC.
The unprecedented level of control over grow rooms that LED lights give cultivators is a giant leap forward for cannabis tech. Rapid return on investment, cutting down on wasteful energy bills and increased control over cannabinoid levels could very well change the entire cannabis growing paradigm as we know it.
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