From increased demand for fresh food to more states legalizing cannabis, there are many reasons that the number of indoor grow operations continues to rise across the nation. That means energy use is going up too.

To meet demand for local produce in urban areas, farmers are setting up controlled environment agriculture (CEA) production facilities near consumers and using techniques like indoor grows, greenhouses, or vertical farms. It is estimated that the global CEA market will be worth more than $1.6 billion by 2026. At the same time, cannabis is either legalized fully or for medical purposes across 43 states. Legal sales reached $17.5 billion in 2020, according to cannabis research firm BDSA, a 46% increase from 2019, while New Frontier Data predicts sales to grow to $43 billion by 2024.

In either case, indoor grow operations are energy-hungry businesses that present opportunities for utilities to help growers reduce operating costs without compromising performance or results. Evergreen Consulting Group has worked with utilities since they first began offering incentive programs to growers for lighting, HVAC and other equipment. Growing techniques, technology, and grower preferences are constantly evolving with the market. One of the ways that we’re staying on top of the industry is through our CEA Best Practices Group.

The group brings together energy specialists and program staff to discuss trends, share experiences and brainstorm solutions for new situations. We invite outside experts to talk about new products, systems and approaches for lighting and HVAC and strategies for achieving environmental consistency and maximizing yields. As we continue to expand our CEA programs and methodologies across the U.S., we have the advantage of drawing on first-hand experience in these areas. Folks who participate in the group do so for many reasons, including:

  • CEA is a new discipline with a new language: Lighting and HVAC systems for indoor grow operations differ from other commercial applications. Indoor growers (i.e., CEA customers) are highly focused on yield and consistency—which demands reliable, high-performing equipment for controlled periods. Indoor grows have unique load profiles, requiring their own technical analysis to determine savings. By sharing our experiences and deepening our understanding of efficient technologies, we deliver better services and higher savings to utilities and growers.
  • Successful practices are different across the nation: Cannabis laws, utility offerings and acceptance rates vary from one state or region to the next, and grower practices must adjust to suit. Evergreen’s Best Practices Group is an ideal forum for program staff who have worked in states where cannabis has been legal for years to share best practices with those in states where this is all new. The same process of gathering successful approaches and technologies applies to CEA production facilities. Evergreen’s local teams apply this knowledge of market adoption and utility approaches to their own programs.
  • Regular communication with other CEA leaders strengthens individuals and the team: Discussion topics have ranged from rural outreach to greenhouse construction and plant science. Biology is a huge factor in understanding how systems affect CEA operations. The group has taken a deep dive into the science of growing indoors, the qualitative and quantitative research that informs energy baselines, and the advantages of indoor farms that utilize sunlight (i.e., greenhouses) versus artificial lighting.

As group participants discuss their experience to verify and validate approaches, Evergreen demonstrates how CEA programs can educate customers and deliver cost-effective savings in the real world, making us stronger as a team and a better resource for utilities and their CEA customers.

By seeing what offerings are successful in specific markets, the team can adjust to new situations and market shifts with greater agility. When we add a new program or energy specialist to our team, we connect those less experienced with the CEA environment to learn from more seasoned people and quickly get up to speed.

This continually evolving industry offers so much potential for utilities to help their customers increase energy savings. Evergreen’s CEA Best Practices Group is one of the ways we are preparing our team to be ready for each new program opportunity.