2018: The Year Energy Became a Key Industry Issue

Special Advertising Section - Control Your Grow: Energy

5 ‘firsts’ have occurred this year, further pushing cultivators to look for ways to lower energy outputs for both sustainability and compliance.

Photo Courtesy of Dave Spillman, High Mountain Health

A lot is happening in 2018. California started adult-use sales. Canada and Massachusetts are on tap next. Price pressures continue to bear down on multiple states, and consolidation is upon us.

Amid all the transformative activities, one major milestone worth noting is that 2018 is the year that energy—and how to be efficient with it—became a central topic in cannabis. This makes good sense at this stage of industry evolution, given that energy is generally a top-three expense in a cultivation operation.

Energy is a key industry issue because five “firsts” have occurred or will occur soon:

  1. Regulation on Lighting Power Density
  2. Lighting Efficacy Standards for Horticulture
  3. Events Promoting Energy Efficiency
  4. Benchmarking Data on Cultivation Facility Energy Performance
  5. The Industry’s First Energy Report

Regulation on Lighting Power Density

A couple months ago, Massachusetts took the first step in regulating the industry’s energy consumption, establishing an aggressive 36-watts-per-square-foot lighting power density rule for large cultivation facilities. In effect, what the state is saying is: If you want to cultivate in Massachusetts, you better consider LED lights or greenhouses, or an adjustment to the way you lay out high-intensity lights in indoor flowering rooms.

The reality is, by regulating electricity load in a manufacturing environment— essentially saying: We’re going to tell you how to produce your product— is a relatively unprecedented action by government. It is a telltale sign that the public sector is taking note of the concentrated energy use of indoor cannabis cultivation and how it threatens established climate and energy goals.

Guidelines are still being written by the Cannabis Control Commission, which seems committed to figuring out a way to thread the needle between the state’s strong energy commitment and cannabis economic development. An Energy & Environment Workgroup will soon be established to smooth the transition.

Mitch | Adobe Stock

Oregon was first to require energy reporting. California has expressed it will establish efficiency and renewables targets within a few years. The question is: Which states are next, and how far will they go? The industry should pay attention and get involved.

To support cultivators in Massachusetts and elsewhere, Resource Innovation Institute (RII) will soon be issuing peer-reviewed guidance on cultivating under LED and other efficient lighting options.

Lighting Efficacy Standards for Horticulture

Later this year, horticultural lighting will have an efficacy rating by DesignLights Consortium (DLC), an organization supported by utilities that evaluates all forms of lighting. This is a big deal because, when the DLC qualifies a lighting product, utilities generally offer incentives on them, thereby subsidizing efficient lighting.

The DLC horticultural Qualified Products List (QPL) will enable cannabis operators to select lighting based on performance at generating plant growth, providing third-party assessment of manufacturer claims. (Editor’s note: At press time, DLC was in the R&D stage of creating new categories, technical requirements and policies for listing horticultural lighting products on its Solid State Lighting (SSL) QPL, and released its first draft policy in April. The final policy is slated for release in September. For more information, visit: bit.ly/DLC-QPL.)

RII has played an intermediary role to help connect the dots between lighting manufacturers, cultivators, utilities and other key stakeholders like the DLC.

Events Promoting Energy Efficiency

Energy use and sustainability are gaining traction at industry events this year as well. The topics will be recognized as emerging issues at a premier installation at MJBizConNEXT in New Orleans, where RII will be showcasing its Cannabis PowerScore tool.

This mid-year event follows an Energy Pavilion at the Cannabis Collaborative Conference in Portland, Ore., programming at Cannabis Business Times’ Cannabis 2018 Cultivation Conference in Oakland, Calif., and California Cannabis Industry Association’s (CCIA) Policy Conference in Sacramento.

scarlett | Adobe Stock

Data on Cultivation Facility Energy Consumption

RII’s Cannabis PowerScore (CannabisPowerScore.org) is now equipping growers with an anonymous self-assessment of energy performance. The aggregate data is creating industry benchmarks on energy consumption, and helping utilities establish incentives, governments shape policy and manufacturers enhance research and development.

Early findings show a range of energy consumption, from virtually 0 kWh per square foot in a seed-planted outdoor farm to more than 500 kWh per square foot in an inefficient indoor operation in multiple stages of cultivation and improperly installed HVAC systems.

The PowerScore data also reveal an interesting variance in production efficiency, from 1,480 grams per annual kWh in a near-zero-energy outdoor farm to less than 1 gram per annual kWh in many indoor operations.

The PowerScore tool will help point toward the most energy-efficient combinations of lighting and HVAC across a variety of grow environments.

The Industry’s First Energy Report

Building off the Cannabis PowerScore data, RII is partnering to release the industry’s first energy report this summer. The report will include further analysis on key benchmarks by cultivation type, spotlighting best practices and regional considerations.

Derek Smith is executive director of the Resource Innovation Institute (ResourceInnovation.org), a non-profit whose mission is to promote and quantify energy and water conservation in the cannabis industry.