Indoor-growing facilities require massive amounts of energy for lighting, heating, air-conditioning, and dehumidification systems. According to the 2016 Marijuana Business Factbook, the majority of commercial grows are completely indoor operations. Indoor operations made up 63% of the total number of operations, while an additional 20% are considered at least partially indoors.
Indoor facilities, due to a lack of natural sunlight, need to simulate it with powerful lights. These powerful lights, in turn, generate a lot of heat, requiring heavy-duty air-conditioning systems to keep things cool. These machines usually run continuously, and as a result, the cannabis industry may rival the electrical usage of data centers. It should come as no surprise that the cannabis industry’s ecological footprint is not green.
Even before the legalization wave swept across the States, legal indoor cannabis growing facilities accounted for 1% of national electricity use according to a 2012 study. It’s been estimated that a 5,000 square foot indoor-grow facility would use approximately 41,808 kilowatt-hours per month. An average household, on the other hand, utilizes approximately 630 kilowatt-hours per month. In other words, a 5,000 square foot indoor grow uses almost as much electricity as 70 houses.
With Legalization Comes Greater Energy Demands
When growers had to grow guerrilla-style, prior to legalization, farms would sometimes use solar panels to avoid suspiciously large utility bills, or would just grow directly in sunlight outside. Two years after Colorado legalized recreational marijuana (in 2012), the city of Denver’s 362 marijuana grow facilities accounted for over 2% of the city’s electricity usage.
Now that cannabis is becoming legal in more places, and not just in the US (Hi Canada!), more attention is being paid to the issue of power supply and demand. Growers, policymakers, and tech companies have a stake in rising to the challenge of providing clean energy for the burgeoning market.
What Role Can Solar Energy Play?
The CEO of Solar Integrated Roofing Corporation, Dave Massey, has described the growing cannabis industry’s electricity consumption an opportunity that is hard to overlook. Estimating that the electrical cost to produce a kilogram of cannabis flower could amount to approximately $2,500, Massey believes that custom-designed solar roofing could play a part in reducing the load on the power grid. If their interventions in California facilities prove successful, they’ll consider expanding into more states.
Well-designed solar roofing could also play a significant part in supplying clean energy to extraction facilities. Extraction facilities also demand a significant amount of electricity. Heating, ventilation, air-conditioning, and the extraction equipment itself are estimated to require about 25,000 kilowatt-hours per month in California, and that’s just for mid-range extraction equipment. Massey believes that solar roofing could step in and lower production costs for this sector within the cannabis industry.
Aurora Cannabis, a medical cannabis producer and distributor based out of Canada, but whose products are exported internationally, is taking advantage of solar energy to clean up and reduce the costs of their production processes. Earlier in 2018, they acquired 71 acres of land in Medicine Hat, Alberta. The new facility is called Aurora Sun in homage to Medicine Hat’s status as the sunniest city in Canada. This new facility complex will be a high-tech hybrid greenhouse. Specialty glass will be implemented to ensure optimal light penetration, reducing overall electrical consumption.
Expect Updates About Best Practices
The opportunity to transform the cannabis market towards cleaner and more efficient energy use has not gone unnoticed. In 2016 the Resource Innovation Institute was founded in Portland, Oregon, by a group of energy and resource conservation leaders.
Partnering with a wide variety of stakeholders involved in the ‘seed to sale’ pipeline, the Resource Innovation Institute seeks to establish best practices and standards for advancing resource efficiency. Growers, governments, and utility bodies are just a few of the actors involved.
Information about best practices stem not only from non-profit private organizations, but also from the Institute. Local governments are also stepping up. Denver’s Department of Environmental Health released its first Cannabis Environmental Best Management Practices Guide in late 2017. It provides a variety of advice to cannabis cultivators who want to reduce their environmental impact, with energy use reduction being a key element addressed.
The legalization of recreational cannabis in some US states and most recently in Canada may very well lead to innovation in the supply and demand of energy, particularly with regards to solar power. Both tech companies and governments will play a role in developing, advising on, and regulating increasingly efficient ways of obtaining energy for growing facilities.
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About the Author
Adele Worsley is a freelance writer interested in the intersection between the medical marijuana industry, small businesses, and changing cultures. Having traveled and worked between Colombia, Spain, California, and London, she’s now happy to back in beautiful Vancouver, Canada. With a background in both anthropology and urban design, Adele is interested in how the changing legal status of marijuana in Canada will impact daily city-life for both the individual and for small businesses.