Are Marijuana Growers Sucking Up All Of Our Energy?

According to a recent Aljazeera America article, the legal cannabis industry “is among the most energy-intensive industries in the U.S.” New initiatives are needed to save the weed – and the world.

Jan 18, 2016

The marijuana industry has been taking a lot of flack for its energy consumption lately. In fact, legal cannabis production is on track to become one of the most energy-intensive industries in the country. Fortunately, new initiatives from large-scale growers, utility companies, and local governments just might save the day. 

Too Bright and Too Hot

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When you step into a large-scale grow room for the first time, there are a few things you might notice:

  1. All the weed (of course)
  2. Incredibly bright, hot lights hovering roughly 8-15 inches over the plants (variable depending on plant height)
  3. The hum of industrial air conditioning systems and dehumidifiers
  4. A slight breeze created by the need for continually circulating air

According to a recent Aljazeera America article, the legal cannabis industry “is among the most energy-intensive industries in the U.S.” This claim isn’t exactly surprising. To grow high-quality marijuana year round, you have to take plants indoors. For truly top-shelf quality crop, producers face the challenge of artificially creating the perfect environment for optimum plant growth.

In legal states, many growers achieve this perfect combination via 1000-watt grow lights, energy consuming air conditioning systems and elaborate ventilation systems. During the vegetative growth phase, it’s not uncommon for growers to choose to leave these high-powered lights on 24/7.

Continuing the way we have been, the power to grow just four plants is the same as the power needed to run 29 refrigerators. In fact, an analysis of XcelEnergy sales found that Colorado grow operations bought 300gigawatt hours of energy. This is the energy use equivalent of around 35,000 households.

New Energy Efforts Are Emerging

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From the beginning of legalization in 2012, States, producers, and utility companies have had energy consumption on their minds.

In an effort to reduce marijuana’s harmful environmental impact, Boulder County has stepped in to lend a hand. Last year, the county created the Boulder County Energy Impact Offset Fund.  This regulation requires that commercial growers either switch to renewable forms of energy or pay a fee of 2 cents per kWh. The money collected from this fee is used to continue to educate cannabis growers about renewable energy as well as fund renewable energy projects around the County.

If growers switch to renewable sources, they can also receive a rebate from Xcel Energy. Xcel Energy is one of the primary energy providers in Colorado.

In their research, Boulder County found that the average 5,000 square foot grow facility releases around 30,334 pounds of CO2 into the atmosphere each month. Numbers like these make it difficult for an already controversial industry to maintain a positive public face.

“The industry as a whole has gotten a bad rap for not being energy efficient,” Stephen Lipton of The Farm in Boulder tells AlJazeera. “We are definitely working to minimize our carbon footprint. Right now, it’s still a work in progress.”

It’s All About The LEDs

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Apart from government intervention, innovations in LED lighting technology may be the industry’s best prospects for reducing energy consumption. In a 2013 interview with Leafly, Cole Johnstone of Seattle-based Solid Apollo LED explains:

“Everyday LEDs are becoming more universal and accepted in all areas of lighting. They are low power, high brightness, and environmentally friendly. For these reasons alone, many growers are turning to LEDs to save from the traditionally high costs that have been associated with indoor growing.”

LED lights are far more costly upfront than the high-pressure sodium (HPS) bulbs typically used by marijuana growers. But, they have the highest lumen output per watt than any other lighting system out there. This not only reduces the cost of running the lights themselves but cuts down on air conditioning and dehumidifying costs as the lights are not as hot.

A note to growers looking to make the switch: LEDs are also full-spectrum. This means that they can be used during all phases of the growth cycle. No need to switch from blue lighting during vegetative stage to red once it’s time to flower.

The legal marijuana industry continues to face its fair share of challenges. Figuring out how to produce in a sustainable way is a major one of them. Many large-scale growers still rack up the energy bills by using high-wattage lights and expensive ventilation systems. Fortunately, however, growers and states are tackling the energy issue while it’s still early in the game.

Do you have any ideas on how to make weed growing more sustainable? Have you recently made the switch to fluorescent or LED lighting systems? How did your plants turn out? We want to hear your thoughts! Share your experience with us by reaching out on Social Media or in the comments section below.

Jan 18, 2016