by Emily Langner
A multitude of factors play into constructing an ideal environment for growing cannabis. Growing the plants profitably in an indoor controlled environment and achieving the best possible Return on Investment (ROI), most simply, involves balancing the costs with the conditions required to produce the optimum plant.
Rick Nathans, co-founder of SpecGrade LED, a U.S. manufacturer of Light Emitting Diode (LED) grow lights for commercial horticulture, says, “It’s essentially a moving target. You have the market which is dictating how much money a company can make growing a healthy plant, then you’ve got costs (i.e., electricity, nutrients, water, CO2, capital costs) on the other side. Any little hiccup in the system can have devastating consequences. So the question is, ‘Where is that perfect point of equilibrium where you can you optimize all these variables profitably?’”
Nathans says the biggest challenge in growing cannabis is maximizing the ROI while trying to balance the ecosystem in a grow facility. “In terms of grow lighting, the intensity of the lights drives everything else.” Currently, the industry is transitioning from high pressure sodium (HID) lights to LED lighting that has a longer lifespan and is significantly more energy efficient. “What we have here is an emerging industry with an evolving technology,” he adds.
Together with SpecGrade LED co-founder, Doug Lauck, Nathans has designed a high performance LED grow light with innovative engineering that delivers the optimal intensity of light, better known in the industry as PPFD (Photosynthetic Photon Flux Density). The optimum level for a flowering cannabis plant is approximately 950-1000 PPFD. “We hit the sweet spot for each one of our grow lights,” says Nathans. “You can hang our lights within four inches of the plant and not harm it in any way, so it’s going to shower the plant with the highest level of PPFD without negatively impacting it. By not delivering too high of a level of PPFD, the grow facility will consume less electricity; produce less humidity; and require less CO2, water, and nutrients; not to mention that the capital costs of the light itself will be less.”
Additionally, he says, SpecGrade LED lights use proprietary engineered heat sink technology that pulls the heat away from the plant while creating a uniformity of light that translates to higher yields. The modular design of each SpecGrade LED light enables the grower the ability to switch out a failed component while a light remains operational and in place, which also means no loss in productivity.
Nathans says utilizing technology like LED grow lights is imperative when designing grow facilities, due to governmental restrictions on energy consumption. For example, the state of Massachusetts limits a cannabis facility to 36-watts per square foot of canopy. Other states are beginning to follow this restriction. He says, “With legalization, cannabis is quickly going from a craft plant to a commodity, thereby impacting margins unless growers focus on optimizing the facility from the very beginning, and the role of the architect/engineer is to counsel them on that.” Another way to increase efficiency is for growers to invest in the ability to control all aspects of the facility through a series of sensors and software, which will ultimately reduce costs.
As the demand for cannabis manufacturing facilities continues to grow, AEC professionals must have the ability to respond to the challenges presented by a constantly evolving industry, according to Nathans. “The architects and engineers on these projects are on the front lines and need to continue to educate themselves and their clients on the best ways to optimize resources, which will result in increased ROI for their clients while having minimal impact on the environment.”
Rick Nathans will be conducting two webinars entitled, Critical Factors to Consider when Specifying Grow Lights to Optimize your Client’s Grow Facility.
To attend via Zoom:
Feb. 22 at 12:00 EST: https://bit.ly/SGLFeb22
Feb. 23 at 12:00 EST: https://bit.ly/SGLFeb23
Emily Langner is editor at High-Profile Monthly.