Should I use solar panels to power grow lights?

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Solar for grow lights

What do growing cannabis in Colorado, greens in South Korea, and sustaining life in space all have in common? While it may sound like the setup to a bad joke, all three are related to modern agriculture's future. Indoor agriculture enables individuals to control all of the variables that go into farming, but it also means that the farmer has to recreate all of the natural conditions on Earth -- from the soil in the Earth to the sun in the sky. Solar power can and will play a big part in achieving this.

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Until recently, much of the cultivation of cannabis took place behind closed doors because it was illegal. Now as states reconsider their regulations on growing cannabis, today’s growers can begin to move outdoors and into more traditional farm settings. However, in legal states like Colorado, Massachusetts, and Washington, growers are required by law to grow their plants indoors. As a result, many growers in the Rocky Mountain State are moving to greenhouses. This indoor setting allows the growers to take advantage of direct sunlight and gain total control over their agricultural environment.

Plant factories & indoor urban farms

Indoor agriculture, or vertical farming, is expanding as urban farming becomes necessary in densely populated areas. “In areas where the cost of transporting food outweighs the cost of local production, you see plant factories and indoor urban farms gaining popularity,” says Gene Giacomelli, a Professor of Agriculture and Biosystems Engineering at the University of Arizona.

Life in space

If we’re ever going to turn science fiction into science fact, we will have to take much of Earth’s habitat into space with us. To provide sustainable sources of food and oxygen for astronauts, researchers are working with NASA to create lunar greenhouses that could be deployed in flight or even on other planets.

But the total control that indoor agriculture offers also creates problems for indoor growers. Without access to direct sunlight, the generation of electricity quickly becomes an issue. For closed spaces, a farmer needs to regulate the surrounding temperature and the amount of light his plants receive. According to Dr. Giacomelli, around 70 percent of the operational cost of an indoor farm comes from the cost of electrical energy. “Right now, we’re able to produce around ten grams of crop per kilowatt hour of electricity,” says Giacomelli. To make indoor agriculture a more widespread reality, the cost of energy resources needs to be substantially reduced. This reduction can be achieved by more efficiently recreating the resources the plants need or using more efficient systems to produce the power itself.

Power-efficient lighting, like LED lights, has become much cheaper in recent years. However, LEDs don’t produce enough useable light for plants to grow as well as they could. Unfortunately, this makes using LED lights about as efficient as using the more traditional power-hungry grow lights on a per-plant basis. This shortcoming in LED lights is increasing the attractiveness of solar energy to indoor farmers that seek to lower their electricity bills.

Less costly power production

If a grower cannot find a cost-efficient way to recreate the resources that plants need indoors, finding a cheaper way to produce the required power may be the answer to more cost-efficient indoor farming.

Using a solar energy system is the most accessible way to generate electricity at a lower price than utility companies offer. While utility prices for power increase each year, buying a solar energy system places the majority of costs upfront and fixed. Using a solar energy system to achieve a better price on electricity ensures that farmers will maximize their savings over the long term. It also sets them up to reinvest those cost savings into future purchases and growth.

There are various options for urban planners in the cannabis industry looking for more efficient and cost-effective ways to power their greeneries. In the case of small energy needs, it's possible to buy individual solar lights from popular e-commerce sites like Amazon. For bigger power needs for full-scale greenery, installing a solar system onsite may make sense. In that scenario, check out these helpful tips for early-stage solar shoppers:

1. Homeowners who get multiple quotes save 10% or more

As with any big-ticket purchase, shopping for a solar panel installation takes a lot of research and consideration, including a thorough review of the companies in your area. A recent report by the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) recommended that consumers compare as many solar options as possible to avoid paying inflated prices offered by the large installers in the solar industry.

To find the smaller contractors that typically offer lower prices, you'll need to use an installer network like EnergySage. When you register your property on our Solar Marketplace, you can receive free quotes from vetted installers local to you; homeowners who get three or more quotes can expect to save $5,000 to $10,000 on their solar panel installation.

2. The biggest installers typically don’t offer the best price

The bigger isn't always better mantra is one of the main reasons we strongly encourage homeowners to consider all their solar options, not just the brands large enough to pay for the most advertising. A recent report by the U.S. government found that large installers are $2,000 to $5,000 more expensive than small solar companies. If you have offers from some of the big installers in solar, compare those bids with quotes from local installers to ensure you don't overpay for solar.

3. Comparing all your equipment options is just as important

National-scale installers don’t just offer higher prices – they also tend to have fewer solar equipment options, which can significantly impact your system’s electricity production. Collecting a diverse array of solar bids allows you to compare costs and savings based on the different equipment packages available to you.

There are multiple variables to consider when seeking out the best solar panels on the market. While certain panels will have higher efficiency ratings than others, investing in top-of-the-line solar equipment doesn’t always result in higher savings. The only way to find your property's “sweet spot” is to evaluate quotes with varying equipment and financing offers.

For any homeowner in the early stage of shopping for solar that would just like a ballpark estimate for an installation, try our Solar Calculator, which offers up front cost and long-term savings estimates based on your location and roof type. For those looking to get quotes from local contractors today, check out our quote comparison platform.

Find out what solar panels cost in your area in 2023
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