There are over 30 states in the U.S. that have medical marijuana programs and 10 that have legal recreational access thus far. With more states shifting the narrative around cannabis use, the industry is experiencing huge spikes in both demand and energy consumption. Since best practices of the marijuana business have been largely kept in the dark, new industry leaders are left struggling to find solutions that will cut energy prices and keep businesses competitive. The answer may be energy efficiency. According to the 2018 Cannabis Energy Report compiled by New Frontier Data, cannabis is a $9.8 billion industry expected to grow to $20.3 billion by 2025. The rise in revenue is compounded by a rise in energy consumption which is predicted to increase 162 percent between 2017 and 2022.
It’s important to note that while the marijuana industry is experiencing large shifts in energy, their overall consumption is relative compared to energy intensive industries like automotive or steel. That’s not to say the energy use is not substantial. In the U.S., legal cannabis cultivation consumes 1.1 megawatt hours of electricity annually; enough to power 92,500 homes for a year.
Cannabis is largely grown in indoor facilities such as greenhouses or warehouses that are specifically maintained to promote plant growth. This is known as Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA) where growers strive to replicate natural outdoor properties such as light and temperature. One of the major energy consuming systems in a cannabis facility is lighting, which is 70 times more energy intensive than commercial buildings. Many of the warehouses and greenhouses used to grow marijuana are not equipped with energy efficient LEDs. Instead they use High Intensity Discharge (HID) lighting such as High-Pressure Sodium (HPS) fixtures.
Cannabis is grown in three main stages: propagation, vegetative, and flowering. In the propagation stage, the plants are cloned, planted, and kept under low-wattage lighting for 18 to 24 hours a day. According to the report, this is the least energy intensive stage. Once the cloned plants have rooted, they enter the vegetative stage and are transferred to high wattage lighting. This accounts for 30 to 40 percent of total electricity use. Once the plants are fully grown and hardened, they enter the flowering stage. This is the most energy demanding stage and represents 50 to 65 percent of total electrical use.
The high usage of inefficient HID lighting produces a lot of extra heat which combines with the plant transpiration process to create humidity. Humidity directly impacts plant growth and transitions us into the next energy consuming system, HVAC. Maintaining temperature and ventilation is crucial to a good crop yield. The HVAC systems in this environment must work overtime to remove excess heat and moisture while filtering air contaminants. Depending on the facility and system efficiency, HVAC accounts for 25 to 50 percent of total electricity consumption.
As the marijuana industry becomes more aware of the energy demand connected to the growing process, the Resource Innovation Institute created the Cannabis Power Score. This allows growers to benchmark their energy use relative to other growers, learn best practices, and calculate their grams produced per kWh consumed. With the large amount of cannabis growers on the grid, the report urges utilities to research and invest in technology that will incentivize the industry to cut costs. The report also urges the government to provide unique building code requirements for growing facilities.
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