Light Dep vs Outdoor: Why Light Deprivation Greenhouses Are A Good Investment

Healthy Cannabis Bud. Photo:  Lizzy Fritz

Healthy Cannabis Bud. Photo: Lizzy Fritz

I’ve always said the best source of light is the sun. It requires no expense, no electricity, and its bright beams do not draw suspicion. Nothing puts out more lumens than the sun:  And it’s free!  
— Ed Rosenthal

As a cannabis grower, consultant and educator, I would consider myself a generalist. I do know a lot about the plant, and I also know my limitations.

There are specialists in the cannabis field, especially given that we finally can legally apply real science to the study of the plant [many a phd’s will be written about this plant in the very near future].

When I really want to get down to the nitty gritty specifications of individual topics in growing cannabis, I consult experts in those areas.

For this article on light dep vs outdoor, I reached out to my friends at Gro-Tech Systems who specialize in light deprivation greenhouse technology. Here’s what they had to say.   

Why Light Deprivation Greenhouses Are A Good Investment

Gro-Tech Systems   Sierra Series   Gothic Style Light Deprivation Greenhouse

Gro-Tech Systems Sierra Series Gothic Style Light Deprivation Greenhouse

Until recently, growing cannabis inside was one of the safest options we had as growers. With legalization cascading across the country, what happens when growers no longer need to hide cannabis in their basements and need to increase the volume of their harvests?  

Light deprivation as a cannabis cultivation method

A lot has been written over the years about light deprivation (or light dep) as a cannabis cultivation method. Whether it’s pulling tarps or utilizing cutting-edge automated light dep curtain systems, the benefits are undeniable:

1.  It can increase harvests from one outdoor grow to at least 4 or 5 a year.

2.  It significantly cuts energy consumption and total cost of your cannabis operation compared to indoor cultivation.

3.  It’s ultimately more sustainable for the planet.

From a holistic standpoint, the combination of all these three factors together supports that the absence of light, known as  light deprivation or light dep, will be the future of cannabis cultivation. Automated light deprivation is the only cultivation method currently available that’s truly in the best interest of your flower,  your grow operation, and the  environment.

Automated light deprivation greenhouses are the future for growers

Gro-Tech Systems : Cannabis plants growing in light dep greenhouse

Gro-Tech Systems: Cannabis plants growing in light dep greenhouse

Automated light deprivation used to be considered a luxury to cannabis growers. The automated curtains and shade systems were sophisticated and relatively expensive. Other than pulling tarps, light dep was seen as financially unattainable for most cannabis growers. This left cannabis growers to cultivate using methods like large outdoor harvests or indoor warehouses or basements. When the majority of grows were still black market based, those methods made sense to a degree.

Today, light dep technology and techniques are financially feasible and accessible to most growers.

Outdoor light dep greenhouses vs indoor grows

Interior of light deprivation greenhouse. Photo:  Gro-Tech Systems

Interior of light deprivation greenhouse. Photo: Gro-Tech Systems

Indoor production is still considered by many to be top-shelf in terms of the quality of flower, but automated light dep greenhouses now leverage enough technology and equipment, initially developed for indoor grow rooms (supplemental lights, ventilation, environmental controls, dehumidifiers, etc.) and use them to compliment or augment the effects of outdoor growing. This allows light dep greenhouse growers to maintain optimal temperature, humidity, lighting, and the ability to guard against pests and mold to have a totally controlled environment.

4 powerful reasons why light dep greenhouses are the future for cannabis growers

Cannabis growing in light dep greenhouse. Photo:    Gro-Tech Systems

Cannabis growing in light dep greenhouse. Photo: Gro-Tech Systems

The line is blurring between the quality of indoor grows and greenhouse grows while the expense to produce the greenhouse grow comes at a fraction of the cost.

1. Indoor production usually needs expensive exhaust and ventilation systems to maintain prime conditions as well as more artificial lighting because they cannot leverage the sun at all.

2. Greenhouse production not only leverages sunlight, but usually only requires an exhaust system during certain times of the year depending on the climate and region.

3. There are also other features like ceiling vents, roll up sides, and passive ventilation that provide ample air flow to help maintain the internal environment.

4. Growers no longer feel like they are sacrificing the quality of their flower by growing in greenhouses, and don’t need to pay exorbitant amounts of money each month to maintain peak internal environments.

The financial incentives for light dep greenhouses are huge

Gro-Tech Systems   Foothill Series   Light Deprivation Greenhouse.

Gro-Tech Systems Foothill Series Light Deprivation Greenhouse.

From the perspective of running a business, cannabis growers and investors are constantly looking to get an edge and stay competitive. If a method or tool is not making money, saving money, or mitigating risk in some way, then it likely isn’t helping at all.

Artificial lighting for indoor cannabis grows is expensive

According to the 2018 Cannabis Energy Report conducted by New Frontier Data, artificial lighting for indoor commercial cannabis cultivation is 70 times more intensive than commercial office buildings. In that same study, the average kWh/sq. ft. of cultivation between indoor, greenhouse, and outdoor were 262.05 kWh, 133.72 kWh, and 2.36 kWh, respectively.

In states or counties where the electricity costs are high or the weather considered extreme, either indoor or outdoor cannabis cultivation can be especially risky and expensive. The electricity needed to produce indoor cannabis versus comparable light dep greenhouse cannabis is almost twice as much. When utilities can make up nearly half of an operation’s monthly expenses, that can make a huge difference in profit margins.

Light Dep vs indoor grow’s carbon footprint

Light dep truss. Photo:  Gro-Tech Systems

Light dep truss. Photo: Gro-Tech Systems

When you speak about energy consumption, the conversation inevitably shifts to an operation’s carbon footprint and overall impact on the environment. Legislators have had their hands full over the past few years trying to draft legislation that helps the new legal cannabis industry grow while allowing the government to reap the revenue from taxes.

So far, there’s a lot of work left to do on both ends. But regulators are still paying more and more attention to the cannabis industry’s carbon footprint because of the immense amounts of electricity and resources needed to nurture the plant at scale. And when you read that the 45% increase in energy demand in Denver after legalization was attributed to electricity needed to power marijuana facilities, it’s a topic that needs addressing.

When cannabis is legalized federally the impact on consumer utilities could be drastic

Infographic:  New Frontier Data

Infographic: New Frontier Data

Think about the impact when cannabis gets legalized at the federal level and becomes even more widespread (Yes, I said “when” and not “if”). The impact on consumer utilities could be drastic, and the strain on the infrastructure needed to provide that much energy using traditional grids and resources is unsustainable at best. It’s only a matter of time (especially in markets like California with some of the toughest emission standards in the world) until legislation is passed that requires lower energy usage to qualify for commercial cannabis permits.

Financial incentives from utility companies for energy efficient greenhouses are imminent

Interior cannabis plants in light dep greenhouse by  Gro-Tech Systems

Interior cannabis plants in light dep greenhouse by Gro-Tech Systems

If trying to get in front of future regulations or helping the environment aren’t incentives enough, there are usually financial incentives from utility companies to certain industries that encourage the use of energy efficient technologies and methods.

The ultimate goal is to curtail or eliminate the need to build additional costly generation facilities while stabilizing energy pricing – but no doubt there is a positive impact on the environment due to increased efficiencies and less energy being used at large scales. Some growers are trying to be proactive and switching to clean, sustainable energy resources like solar power that has offset approximately 50% of their peak energy loads, but that is likely not an option for the majority of growers in the near future.

So while automated light deprivation greenhouses don’t mitigate the need to consume electricity for production purposes, it still allows growers to consistently harvest high quality flower throughout the year at lower cost and could likely reward them with tax incentives and a lower carbon footprint that keep them ahead of the game.

Light dep greenhouses vs outdoor

Gro-Tech Systems     Alpine Series   Light Deprivation Greenhouse

Gro-Tech Systems Alpine Series Light Deprivation Greenhouse

6 costly reasons why outdoor is ineffective for a cannabis grower

1.  While outdoor cultivation consumes significantly less energy, those harvests are limited to about once per year and the quality is considered generally lower because of the lack of a controlled environment.

2.  The predictable timing around annual outdoor harvests means almost all outdoor growers can be releasing product around the same time.

3.  The increased supply over a narrow timeframe can outpace the demand and lower the price per pound when growers attempt to sell their product.

The increased supply issue has been especially evident in the recently saturated Oregon market. Granted, there are legislative measures that can and should be taken to help combat this trend, but it remains a problem in the Pacific Northwest and will likely continue because there is still no authorized selling of legal cannabis across state lines to other less flooded markets as long as marijuana remains a Schedule 1 drug at the federal level.

4.  If  an outdoor grower loses one harvest or has it significantly underperform, they could lose almost their whole year (an unfortunate reality that some farmers outside of cannabis have had to endure for centuries).

5. If an indoor grower loses a harvest, their energy and operating costs are still significantly higher than those of light dep greenhouses, making it is harder for them to recover the loss.

6. Being able to pace grows throughout the year and increase the number of quality harvests, light deprivation greenhouses are not only less susceptible to drastic price fluctuations but can also absorb the loss of a harvest better than indoor or outdoor grows.

Automated light deprivation greenhouses are clearly not the only way to cultivate cannabis, and some growers are fully committed to their method whether that’s indoor or outdoor. But when growers and investors step back and holistically evaluate the cannabis industry, the combination of cost savings, efficiency, and increased output (not to mention the quality of that output) is why light deprivation greenhouse cultivation puts them in the best position to grow cannabis and their investment now and in the future.


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