Meeting the Demands of a Growing Industry; Marijuana Cultivation and Energy Consumption

Grow House 095

Weed is a big hit here in Colorado where massive marijuana grow houses continue to fill the landscape. As of today, there are over one dozen major grow facilities in the Denver area alone, and the number continues to rise.

Unfortunately, the growing demand for quality cannabis is creating an even larger demand on our energy grid, consuming as much as one percent of all energy in the United States. But, because indoor grow operations tend to trump outdoor ones in terms of both quality control and production time, this increase in energy consumption will likely continue if not increase.

As a product that is promoted as an all-natural, Eco-friendly approach to wellness, sucking up fossil fuels like a blood-thirsty leech seems kind of counter-productive. So, what can be done about our growing energy demands? We certainly don’t want to stop cultivating this valuable crop, and reserving it for the summer months won’t produce a sufficient amount of product.

Growing ganja in greenhouses

One option is to grow cannabis in greenhouses. Though the over-all cost of operating a greenhouse is cheaper than it would be in a warehouse, there are still challenges. For example, many greenhouses would have to be built from the ground up, thus increasing urban sprawl in an already tight area.

Another challenge to growing in a greenhouse is the light cycle that is required to flower cannabis. During the vegetation process, plants need ample light — around 16 hours each day — to grow to full size. This light cycle is easy enough to come by during the summer months, but quickly diminishes come early September when the days get shorter and the nights get colder.

To keep cannabis in the vegetative stage longer, supplementary lighting is required (albeit at a much smaller cost than a strictly indoor operation). Likewise, to encourage flowering (a 12/12 light cycle), automated black-out curtains are needed, as well. Construction of these crop-specific greenhouses, therefore, can be both expensive (some of which cost more than $1 million to both design and construct) and time-consuming, especially for entrepreneurs ready to jump into the canna-biz. Issues with zoning permits have also slowed the process of marijuana greenhouse construction, leaving eager entrepreneurs chomping at the bit and thus settling for artificially lighted warehouses instead.

Nevertheless, marijuana greenhouses can reduce energy consumption by as much as 90 percent while reducing our carbon footprint at the same time, and should therefore be strongly considered by cannabis cultivation companies as a viable alternative to our growing energy demands.

Government incentive programs help curb Colorado’s energy consumption

Xcel, Colorado’s primary energy company, knows very well that cannabis cultivation will not cease because of a few inflated energy bills. In fact, even with monthly bills coming in at an average of $20,000 to $100,000, marijuana grow facilities are continuing to pump out more and more product as demand increases.

To help cushion the blow caused by increased energy usage, Xcel will offer rebates to companies willing to become more energy-efficient (by using solar power or energy-efficient LED lights, for example). Though they have yet to publicly state exactly how much rebate they can offer to these companies (given the sticky red tape between state and federal marijuana laws), it does prove that other businesses are more than willing to work with the cannabis industry to see that it maintains its success.

Using the sun to power grow operations

Intel Solar Installation Vietnam

Because a single pound of cannabis requires around 2,000 kilowatt hours of electricity, the need for a more economical source of energy is crucial. Though some have suggested the use of solar power to supplement grow house operations, there are still kinks to iron out, including the price of installation, energy consumption versus production, and the ability to store electricity for later use.

  •  The high cost of solar panel installation: Though solar energy has become increasingly affordable, there is still a hefty price to pay after taking to account the cost to both manufacture photovoltaic cells and to install the hardware needed to secure them. Until prices drop significantly, it is unlikely that marijuana grow houses will make the switch.
  • Cannabis grow houses and their energy demands: Indoor cannabis cultivation requires an abundance of electricity for both lights and climate control. And, though solar power might technically save growers money in the long run, the risks may not be worth it just yet.

That’s because Colorado’s sun exposure is come-what unpredictable. This, of course, raises concern for growers who don’t want to jeopardize the quality of their grow house climate and light regimen. Should there be insufficient lighting, for example, their product could become “stressed” and turn hermaphroditic, thus reducing it’s value on the shelf.

  • Storing solar power to grow marijuana: The problem with the unpredictability of the sun could be remedied if the electricity generated via solar power was able to be stored efficiently. Though some progress has been made to improve solar power storage, a fully-integrated transition may still be a few years off.

Cannabis is in demand, but cannabis production can get terribly expensive when taking into account the high cost of electricity consumption. As it stands, the cost of growing weed will continue to much more expensive than growing, say, tomatoes, which means that the price of purchase will also remain high (no pun intended).

Hopefully, the price to cultivate marijuana will go down as the price of solar power becomes more affordable and easier to manufacture (and may even be made with hemp, soon). In the mean time, cannabis prices will remain high and home grow operations will become increasingly popular.

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