Lightening The Carbon Footprint of Cannabis Farms
In a protected and controlled environment, you can grow a profitable mix of high-potency medical marijuana and any number of milder strains appealing to a new market. Unfortunately, a successful grow house comes high energy bills and a heavy carbon footprint.
Co-founder of Micro-Grid Company Scale, Tim Hade, said, “It’s a big problem. It has an impact far beyond cannabis consumption.”
A recent study showed a single marijuana plant takes approximately 70 gallons of oil to grow. Energy demand at Colorado’s largest utility went up by about 2 percent after marijuana was legalized.
Hade says the growing industry could possibly wipe out gains the country has made over the last decade that kept energy consumption stable even as the population and economy grew. As the legal cannabis industry in California expands, it could become a serious challenge for the state to reduce greenhouse emissions.
The cannabis industry has already started addressing the issue. Farmers are innovating and experimenting with different ways to make growing more efficient.
California based energy and climate change scientist, Evan Mills, said the cannabis industry could make efficiency gains in almost every step of its process. According to Mills’ research, the total amount of energy used to power marijuana farms is enough to power two million homes, with emissions equal to three million typical U.S. vehicles.
Mills said the key change in the industry is a trend toward large-scale cannabis cultivation. They may prove to be far more energy intensive than the current collection of small-growers.
Scale, based in New York, combines solar, battery storage, and natural gas generators in one system that cuts energy cost by 35 percent.
Hade, an Air Force veteran and Stanford Graduate School of Business grad, said the system uses the excess heat from generators to fuel air conditioning. With fuel and electricity averaging at about 30 percent of a farmer’s overhead, you must be sophisticated about energy management.
JP Martin, founder of GrowX, a company in the cannabis accelerator Gateway, focuses his company on efficient indoor growing. The startup has produced prototypes for an aeroponic growing system, with lights, sensors, and a mesh growing medium. Martin claims the system uses less water and energy than hydroponic growing, and eliminates possible impurities and disease developed from soil.
Cannabis grown indoors is known to be more potent, but more expensive than crops grown outdoors. “Traditional farming is a broken model,” Martin said.
Even the promise of new technology such as energy saving LED lighting, sensor-filled growing pods, and a network of artificial intelligence and high-efficiency electronics may not be enough.
Mills said, “In this warming world, indoor farming is an environmentally unaffordable luxury. Even deep energy savings leave indoor grows as energy-intensive as most ordinary buildings.”
Some farmers have even taken a traditional, natural approach to growing. Cyril Guthridge, owner and operator of Waterdog Herb Farm in Mendocino County, California, plants outdoors. He searches for the correct combination of plants and environment to produce the highest-quality strains of marijuana on his 160 are homestead.
Guthridge says he has several great friends growing inside that are producing great crops. The process can produce high-quality crops, but it is up to three times more expensive.
But Guthridge wishes to fil a niche for high-quality, naturally grown marijuana. And his farm is off the grid, powered by renewable sources.
“Nature is providing us with a very good environment,” he said.
Growers in the True Humboldt collective, in rural Humboldt County, California, also strive to produce natural products, with less environmental impacts.
“The most energy-efficient way to cultivate cannabis in California is using our sunshine as a primary light source,” said Chrystal Ortiz, representative for True Humboldt.