As more states legalize recreational cannabis, the number of indoor grow operations is expanding. At the same time, other Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA) crops, such as ornamental flowers, houseplants, hemp, produce, and mushrooms, are on the rise too. Because cultivating these products indoors is energy intensive, CEA presents new opportunities for utilities to talk with growers about their business and offer incentives to make strategic investments in energy efficiency.

Evergreen has been on the front line since utilities were first introducing energy efficiency programs for indoor agriculture in states that had legalized cannabis. Working with more than 200 growers on over 160 projects, we’ve learned a lot about this unique and sometimes reluctant market segment. It takes time to establish a trusting relationship, and our knowledge about their requirements for keeping quality and yield up while lowering energy use and costs opens doors.

Here are three key trends we’re seeing in the CEA market now:

  • Lighting and HVAC systems offer the best energy saving opportunities in CEA. While it seems like the sky is the limit when it comes to energy-efficient options, indoor crops require very specific lighting characteristics, temperatures, humidity and other factors for maximum quality and yield. It’s important to know how to best use the right technology for the particular grow environment.
  • LED has come a long way since legalization of cannabis in Oregon. We are seeing the technology used in all stages, from clone to vegetative to flower, in both single level and vertical applications. Previous technologies consumed as high as 68 lighting watts per canopy square foot. We have worked with growers on projects that now consume less than 30 watts per square foot using efficient lighting and controls. Growers using these new options know that the collaboration of growing methodologies and technology, when done correctly, produces yields and quality equal to or better than standard practice products. As a result, they are more competitive in this “growing” market.
  • Having a CEA-oriented trade ally network in place is really important to connect growers with technical support from knowledgeable grow light manufacturers, commercial garden stores and contractors. Plus, upfront costs can be a factor for business owners, so the right incentive solutions from the local utility can help close project deals.

Over the years, we have made productive connections with equipment manufacturers and utilities to develop equipment and services that better support grower success. These are exciting times, being part of an industry that is literally growing into its future. If you are connected to Controlled Environment Agriculture, whether as producers or a business that supports them, we’d like to hear about your victories and challenges.