The Impact: Marijuana Producers Learn to Reduce Their Energy Consumption

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The Impact is a weekly series that looks at how the legal cannabis industry affects and protects our environment. Each week, we examine and explain the environmental impact of cannabis, for better or worse. This week, writer Greg Heilers covers companies making new technologies that reduce cultivation energy consumption.

The amount of electricity used to produce indoor-grown weed is staggering, and still growing.

In 2012, researcher Evan Mills’ “The Carbon Footprint of Indoor Cannabis Production,” published in the peer-reviewed Elsevier journal Energy Policy, found that Colorado indoor grows were already using the same amount of electricity as 1.7 million homes. That same year, California’s indoor grows accounted for 9 percent of household energy use.

Today, while it’s still too soon to obtain conclusive data for California post-recreational legalization in Colorado, the amount of energy used to grow each pound of marijuana has been on the decline. Colorado cultivators are becoming more efficient with their operations as the demand for marijuana increases.

Local policies that promote reducing environmental impact and reducing operational cost can help. In 2014, Boulder County made a requirement that commercial marijuana growers offset electricity use with local renewable energy, or pay a charge of 2.16 cents per kilowatt-hour.

“We know that inefficient indoor production is significantly more resource-intensive than outdoor cultivation,” Derek Smith, executive director of Resource Innovation Institute, told Marijuana.com.

Rick DePalma, vice president of GS Thermal Solutions, told Marijuana.com that the “combination of energy usage from lighting, cooling, and dehumidification has a big impact on the environment.”

Both Resource Innovation Institute and GS Thermal Solutions are working with cannabis cultivators to reduce the industry’s massive energy use and environmental impact. Smith said  the Resource Innovation Institute started as a nonprofit in 2016 in Portland, Oregon, to spur cannabis toward an “unprecedented opportunity for market transformation toward resource efficiency.”

According to Smith, the institute creates tools and services to advance resource efficiency and advise the industry in establishing best practices and standards.

GS Thermal Solutions provides “state of the art engineering and design for indoor cannabis facilities,” DePalma said. The company, he added, is constantly innovating to provide the market with “the most energy efficient grow lighting and cooling/dehumidification system.”

Energy Efficient Equipment and Systems

GS Thermal Solutions maintains a higher-level view with a focus on designing and producing a “completely integrated system … to maximize the benefit and efficiency” of a marijuana grow, DePalma said. He listed GS Thermal Solutions products as:

  • Cooling and dehumidification units
  • Advanced spectral control and liquid-cooled LED
  • Facility control and monitoring systems

Each of these is designed to tap into its outdoor environment and additional equipment in the production system to make the entire process more efficient:

  • The GS cooling and dehumidification unit works with various chillers available, and “is designed to maximize the chillers’ performance and efficiency,” DePalma explained. When the unit “combines with chillers that include an economizer, the cooling/dehumidification unit can utilize cold outdoor air” to reduce energy consumption, he said.
  • GS has designed an LED system that can reclaim heat for use in tempering water, space heating, and dehumidification reheat processes, among other uses.
  • The GS Facility Control/Monitoring System integrates each piece of equipment to optimize facility efficiency.

GS Thermal solutions’ website claims that its products can help growers reduce lighting energy consumption by 40 percent and cooling and dehumidification energy consumption by 60 percent.

Collaborate for Enhanced Efficiency

Resource Innovation Institute pursues energy efficiency by sharing data and methodologies. Smith said that the distribution of such information will lead to increased yields, quality, and consistency, while reducing environmental impacts.

The nonprofit works throughout North America to “collect data, connect stakeholders, and advise on policy and utility programs.” Smith spoke of the Resource Innovation Institute’s current work “supporting stakeholders through the rollout of Massachusetts’ energy regulation …  the most aggressive in the nation.” That policy includes a new maximum lighting power density of 36 watts per square foot of canopy for each cultivation facility with more than 5,000 square feet of canopy.

Resource Innovation Institute has a free Cannabis PowerScore tool that “assists cultivators and business operators in benchmarking their energy performance,” Smith said. The data, kept anonymously, are used to improve energy efficiency practices and innovations. The organization also offers a number of free resources for producers to utilize in their pursuit of maximizing both “resource efficiency and profit.”

As the cannabis industry continues to grow, organizations such as  GS Thermal Solutions and Resource Innovation Institute will be there to move the industry toward a triple bottom line approach that evaluates the financial, social and environmental performance of cannabis companies.

Correction 8/10: Boulder County signed their grower resolution on August 5, 2014. The date has been corrected.

About Author

Greg Heilers is an environmentally conscientious writer living in the San Francisco Bay Area.

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