If you’re in the cannabis industry and you’ve noticed price pressure and cost compression mounting in specific markets, you aren’t alone. The industry continues to evolve quickly, with both demand and competition multiplying at record rates. In this environment, if your cannabis business can’t produce at lower costs – from an upfront and long-term perspective – you might be out of business.
One pivotal step cultivators can take toward meeting these pressures is to incorporate energy efficient practices into their core business strategies. Cannabis cultivation is an energy-intensive process – energy expenses can make up anywhere from 30% to 60% of the operational cost of an indoor facility. Variability in energy efficiency represents potential for profit (or loss).
In addition, more jurisdictions across the country are moving toward enforceable energy-efficiency standards. Profits aside, a sustainable approach to energy consumption for your cannabis operation may soon be a requirement. It’s time to take another look at your energy practices.
The most impactful strategy to influence energy efficiency in a cultivation facility is to break it down by each energy input that goes into a space – and then maximize the production of each one. Installing even the most advanced, energy-efficient equipment will not be as effective as optimizing plant production in this way.
Build energy efficiency into your facility design
Whether a new build or retrofit, your focus should be on balancing upfront costs, long-term operating expenses, and production goals from project inception.
- Create a facility layout with room utilization in mind, maximizing canopy footprint while minimizing empty floor space.
- Carefully consider your desired watering rates and environmental setpoints upfront. The colder you run your room and the more irrigation water you put into a room, the more capacity required from your heating, ventilation, air conditioning and dehumidification (HVACD) system, therefore increasing energy demands.
- Set goals for energy performance by choosing equipment best suited for your cultivation strategy and business goals. When defining parameters for success, be sure to include energy efficiency goals.
In your commercial grow facility, it can be difficult to understand how each environmental system impacts the performance of others. For example, whether you choose high intensity discharge (HID) or light emitting diode (LED) lights can significantly affect the transpiration rate in your grow room, the amount of dehumidification capacity you need to remove that moisture, and therefore the amount of electricity your facility is using. To design a successful grow room, you must understand how each step in the process (and each piece of selected equipment) will impact your product and the performance of other vital inputs. Your system is only as good as its weakest link.
Take an integrated approach
Historically, grow rooms have used air conditioners to cool the room (like the ones used to cool your home) and standalone dehumidifiers to remove moisture from the space. This is what we call a “conventional non-integrated system.” However, these systems are designed for people, not plants, and are not well suited for the ever fluctuating, dynamic environments of indoor grow rooms. These disparate pieces of equipment fight each other during operation, do not communicate well, create microclimates within the rooms, and lead to an inefficient use of your energy inputs.
Integrated systems manage multiple environmental parameters from one centralized system. With HVACD systems, this means temperature, relative humidity, airflow, and carbon dioxide are all managed from one system, as opposed to separate systems. An integrated system allows for energy-efficient, 24-hour precision vapor pressure deficit (VPD) control and provides simpler solutions for energy monitoring. Taking a holistic, integrated approach to facility design and equipment selection will ensure a higher return on your investment and better plant performance.
Right-size your grow facility equipment
One-size-fits-all equipment doesn’t exist in the cannabis industry. Right-sizing your grow facility’s equipment, especially when it comes to your HVACD systems, means balancing your capital costs with maximized profits, reduced risk, and optimized operating expenses. The goal is to ensure that your systems have enough capacity to control your environment and meet your production goals without an outrageous electric bill that comes with oversized equipment. Find the right balance between upfront investment and operating costs to achieve production goals.
Your grow facility HVACD system is directly responsible for many of the cardinal parameters of plant health and vitality, and it will likely be one of your largest purchases. It is also the most difficult system to upgrade or replace if you are not getting the control you desire, so it is always more efficient to pay a little more upfront and get it right the first time.
High-performing HVACD systems will not only manage the environment of your indoor cultivation facility, but will optimize conditions for plant vitality, leading to reduced integrated pest management costs and fewer failed lab tests. The right system will help you maximize yield and reduce risk to your plants. As an example, undersized dehumidification capacity can give rise to large spikes in relative humidity when the lights turn off, creating the perfect environment for powdery mildew sporulation, which is detrimental to both your plant health and operational efficiency.
When it comes to right-sizing your equipment, small changes can yield big savings.
Monitor and maintain operational efficiency
Just because the build out of your cultivation facility is complete doesn’t mean your work achieving operational efficiency is done. This should be an ongoing process: cultural control, constant commissioning, monitoring system performance, maintenance, and evaluating key performance indicators will all be critical to your success in the future.
Different businesses use different metrics to track performance and success, but every cannabis business should be measuring operational efficiency. Develop a set of metrics to track and measure energy performance over time, alongside production. Facility energy efficiency can be calculated by analyzing the ratio of production to whole building energy consumption, such as grams per kilowatt. Choosing the right partner to help monitor and maintain ongoing operational efficiency is an important decision.
Implementing long-term energy efficiency strategies will result in substantial savings and strong business results for your cannabis cultivation operation. Your business can increase profitability, reduce energy use, and dramatically impact your bottom line by building energy efficiency goals into your business strategy from the start.
Anders Peterson dives deep on cutting edge cannabis science and technology as part of the team at InSpire Transpiration Solutions. The focus of his career is to better understand and unleash the potential of the cannabis genome in hopes of helping people and improving the world around us.