Article: Solar-powered cannabis cultivation

Solar energy and cannabis cultivation are old bedfellows. PV pioneer John Schaeffer has even credited solar with facilitating the northern California cannabis industry, which in turn supported the nascent PV sector. Now, as the legalization of medical and recreational cannabis gathers pace, solar continues to perform a key role.

In the weeds

Cannabis cultivation can take place outdoors, indoors, or in greenhouses. While outdoor cultivation worked for millennia, the growth of the industry and increased demand for higher-quality product, plus tight profit margins, have prompted producers to go indoors, where ideal environments can be replicated. Indoor growth gives control over environmental factors and flowering periods. More importantly, it means consistent, year-round harvests.

However, the high-powered lights and the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning equipment needed to control temperature and humidity come with a Sasquatch-sized carbon footprint. A 2022 report from the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC) estimated climate control measures represent more than 80% of the carbon footprint of indoor cannabis production.

UNODC estimated that the carbon footprint is 16 times to 100 times larger than for outdoor cultivation. Indoor “factory farming” is incompatible with environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG) standards, says Evan Mills, principal at engineering consultancy Energy Associates and a former senior scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

Mills spelled out the problem in a paper published in “Energy Policy” in 2012, the year Colorado and Washington state legalized cannabis and spurred a domino effect elsewhere. Even then, he estimated indoor cultivation accounted for 1% of total US electricity use, for a carbon footprint equivalent to three million cars.

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Solar-powered cannabis cultivation

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