High Time for Solar? Marijuana Growers and the Solar Industry

By Siena Hacker
04 January 2018
marijuana growers and solar

The US solar and marijuana industries have seen tremendous growth in recent years. Almost 30 states have legalized medical marijuana, while a few have taken the next step to allow recreational marijuana. Solar has played a role in marijuana cultivation since the early, illegal days when growers would use solar panels to decrease suspiciously high utility bills. The increasing scale of commercial operations has growers turning to solar to meet their bottom lines.

Marijuana Growers Can Offset High Electricity Costs with Solar

Though marijuana cultivation may produce large quantities of “green,” it’s definitely not environmentally friendly. In fact, some estimate that the industry creates 15 million metric tons of carbon emissions annually. The large amounts of energy required by grow operations are one of the primary contributors to these negative environmental externalities. According to the 2016 Marijuana Business Factbook, 63 percent of commercial grows are completely indoor, while 20 percent are at least partially indoors. To mimic natural light, these indoor commercial operations utilize high-intensity lights that are as strong as hospital lights. The amount of heat they produce often requires high-powered air-conditioning systems to keep things cool, in addition to other necessary machinery like dehumidifiers and water pumps. All of these machines run almost continuously, which means that indoor grows have become one of the most-energy intensive industries in America. For example, producing a pound of marijuana requires about 2,000 kilowatt hours of electricity under current warehouse conditions. A multimillion commercial grow operation might have 500-lights, which would require a roughly 1.5 megawatt solar array. It’s unlikely that most operations have sufficient space for an array of that size. However, they can still rely on solar to offset some of their high electricity costs.

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The Evolving Policies of Marijuana and Solar

With the industry growing so quickly and new players entering every year, many commercial operations are unwilling to invest in energy efficiency measures with long-term payoffs when growers can’t be sure they’ll still be around in a year. Furthermore, growers can’t take advantage of the federal investment tax credit as the Federal Government does not legally recognize the cannabis cultivation business. However, as commercial growers and their investors focus on multi-year business plans, it is likely that many will opt for the cost saving benefits of solar. Another driving force may be state environmental policies that require growers to source increasing amounts of their electricity from renewable generation.

Should Marijuana Growers Install a Battery Backup System?

Many growers are also purchasing batteries as a precaution against power outages. Due to the large amount of energy needed to power the many lights in a warehouse, most batteries would not be able to keep even the majority of lights on in a blackout. However, batteries could still prevent a large financial loss, especially if they power lights on plants in the vegetative state (those that are actively growing). After about 72 hours without electricity, plants in “veg” will take it as a signal to flower. Though highly dependent on the individual plant and the growing conditions, a plant may be in veg for two weeks to two months. Marijuana plants that prematurely begin flowering will produced fewer buds, resulting in a smaller crop. Batteries that keep the lights on these vegetative crops can thus significantly improve a grower’s financial outcome after a blackout (in fact, some large commercial growers could see a loss of $1 million dollar in a single day during a blackout).

Solar Helps Grower's Bottom Line

The legal marijuana industry is still incredibly young, but its maturation will likely see more commercial growers incorporating solar into their operations. Long-term business plans for growth, the decreasing cost of solar, and the enactment of stricter state environmental marijuana regulation will probably motivate many growers to invest in solar and batteries. To learn more about the solar, compare battery brands, and stay up to date on the latest industry news, subscribe to our blog!

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