By Camille Sanzi
Growing cannabis generates a lot of expenses, and electricity bills are at the top of most growers’ list of villains. That’s why we’ve outlined these areas where any grower can improve efficiency and reduce bottom-line costs.
Aside from the impact energy bills have on a grower’s net earnings, there’s also external pressure on the $3.5 billion cannabis industry as public utilities experience pain from the energy-intensive sector’s growth. And it is, in fact, energy intensive: “energy costs are a large burden for growers, ranging from 20 to 50 percent of their operating costs,” GreenBiz recently reported.
This isn’t only a problem for big growers—who also happen to be battling declining wholesale prices. Startups can feel the pain of inefficient grow rooms fairly quickly.
But no matter the size of your grow room, if you take action to reduce energy use early in your building process, you may be able to avoid exorbitant bills, problematic equipment and even crop pests – all of which drive up costs.
Expert advice on setting up an energy-efficient cannabis grow room can be boiled down to five key tips:
- Think through the details from the start
First-time growers should resist the urge to make rushed decisions.
“Look at your expenses, have the foresight and be careful with product selection early on,” said Coleman Retzlaff, who oversees U.S. Eastern Sales at Quest Dehumidifiers. “Don’t focus on the cost today. It’s worth paying for better build quality in order to get better energy efficiency.”
There’s an entrepreneurial mentality to hurry up and get growing, but if you pause and think critically now, you’ll save yourself time and money down the road. For example, decisions such as updating or adding insulation can seem pricey now, but will lower your future energy expenses and, ultimately, increase revenue. If you think through everything from facility to equipment, efficiency will be on your side.
- Plan Your Space
The first area where you can improve efficiency is your facility. Too often, growers overestimate the space needed to grow, and are left to foot the energy bill for controlling the climate of an unused space.
“The No. 1 thing is planning, planning, planning, in all facets – everything should be planned out at an annoying extent,” said Jared Dinsmore, Director of Operations at Grass Monkey Cannabis Co., who has worked in the professional space for five years. “It is imperative to get all the opinions out there and explore all the products available to you.”
Consider exactly how much space your plants need based on how much cannabis you plan to grow. HERB recommends four large indoor plants per square meter and nine moderately sized plants per square meter. Also keep in mind your veg space will be about one third the size of your overall bloom space.
In addition to making the most of your plant space, remember to include room for you and your crew to walk, water, prune and fulfill general gardening needs. To make the most of your floor and work space, consider an overhead dehumidifier.
If you don’t have enough space, you will increase the time and energy needed to complete tasks, and there’s a lot to be said for maximizing labor efficiency.
- Weigh Your Lighting Options: LED vs. HPS
It’s difficult to determine which lighting technologies are worth pursuing. Though some growers are ready to jump to LEDs – or already have – many don’t believe LED lighting technology is on par with high-pressure sodium (HPS) lights.
During the vegetative state, plants don’t require intense light, so many growers save energy by using LEDs at this stage. For the flowering stage specifically, many growers believe LED lighting won’t give you the same yield you get with HPS lights. For this reason, many growers are willing to deal with the excess heat from HPS lights, which can mean more cost when it comes to cooling.
Of course, the biggest holdup for LED adoption may simply be initial cost. LED lights can run $1,600 each, as opposed to $350 for traditional HPS lights. But, while LEDs may cost more upfront, the upside is they last up to 50,000 hours, require less energy and run cooler, which results in savings.
In addition to LEDs, there are other light options out there that could improve energy efficiency. Light emitting ceramic (LEC) halide lights, also called ceramic metal halide (CMH) lights, reduce electricity consumption but have a high heat output, so as with LEDs and HPS, you’ll have to weigh the pros and cons and figure out what works best for your setup.
- Think Through Water & Humidity
In some states, water is inexpensive and drought may not be a concern, but for energy’s sake, it’s important to test and maintain a watering schedule. Overwatering is easy to do and a common way to waste water. Understand just how much water your plants need, and if possible, consider automating the watering schedule for your grow room.
“Pay attention to not only how much water you use, but where it goes after it leaves the plants,” said Dinsmore from Grass Monkey Cannabis Co. “It’s important fertilizer run-off is disposed of properly.”
Similarly, leaving humidity up to chance is never a good idea. Out-of-control humidity creates ideal conditions for pests, odor, mold and mildew, which can devastate crops. Dehumidifiers counteract these problems but some – particularly those not designed for grow rooms – use a lot of energy. The best option is to consider energy-efficient units and properly size your dehumidifier for your grow room.
“Understanding temperature and humidity is pivotal to consistency in your grow and your energy expenses,” Retzlaff said.
- Grow Your Own Way
As technology continues to advance, competition and cost challenges among growers will increase the importance of energy efficiency.
Growers want energy-efficient products because they result in savings, so industry brands continuously innovate to benefit from releasing the “latest and greatest.” From a business standpoint, embracing energy efficiency is a way to stay competitive because it not only helps with economic return, but also boosts brand perception. According to a recent Cone Communications study, “nine-in-10 consumers expect companies to do more than make a profit, but also operate responsibly to address social and environmental issues.”
A great way to spend efficiently is to “build a good relationship with your hydro store because often they can get you better rates and deals,” Dinsmore said. “Know your local garden supply store and support them – they’re your lifeline – and even bring them a little something on Christmas.”
For now, the best strategy to developing energy-efficient grows differs across states, regions and climates. There are many approaches, and “gardeners are like microbreweries – nobody wants to follow a recipe … They’re all trying to hit their own sense of perfection with a blended mix of techniques,” said Retzlaff.
So, whether you care about energy efficiency because of cost, competition or personal beliefs, ultimately, find what works best for you and your grow room.
About Anthony Martinelli
Anthony, co-founder and Editor-in-Chief of TheJointBlog, has worked closely with numerous elected officials who support cannabis law reform, including as the former Campaign Manager for Washington State Representative Dave Upthegrove. He has also been published by multiple media outlets, including the Seattle Times. He can be reached at TheJointBlog@TheJointBlog.com.