Industry Articles   |   August 29, 2022

Look for these Key Features When Buying Cannabis LED Lighting

Breaking down the complex world of LED lighting for cannabis cultivation.
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We are at the beginning of an exciting time in the Cannabis industry. The world is moving from prohibiting cannabis to recognizing its benefits and creating legal regimes for sales. This shift means new opportunities and innovations. With innovation, there is growth and improvement, which also means new learning curves.

A Focus on LED Lighting

In continuing with our posts on cannabis lighting, in this article, we’d like to highlight some of the key buying features available when deciding on your cultivation’s lighting.

Understanding your needs and the right light to fit those needs takes time and research. Not identifying your needs and undertaking research may lead you to buy something that doesn’t fulfill your requirements. To adjust, you may need to change your goals or purchase different lights in the future, so make sure you figure those out first.

Over the past three years, our research and development in cannabis lighting have led us to believe that, if it isn’t already, LED lighting should be the preferred lighting choice of cultivators. If you are investing in cultivation and incorporate optimal grow conditions while reducing costs, then LEDs should be your light source. Programming and controlling light quality can help dial in your cultivation needs over traditional lights.

This article focuses primarily on LEDs (although some features apply to all lighting types) and highlights the new features that can impact your grow operation and budget. We will explore examples of key features and potential considerations of lighting options.

LED POWER OUTPUT AND EFFICIENCY

As discussed in one of our first posts, there are varied shapes and sizes of lights, but the most important factor in light is the energy output and the efficiency of that output. Cannabis plants only care about how much photosynthetically active radiation (PAR) is available in light to drive photosynthesis. PAR is measured by examining the photosynthetic photon flux (PPF), which is the available number of photons in µmol(micro-mol) per second from the light source.

The PAR can be measured in PPFD, the “D” being the density of the photons in µmol per meter squared per second. PPFD can measure this using a quantum sensor/meter, not a light meter. PPF tells you how much energy is available, while the PPFD can tell you the amount of energy hitting your canopy. The photosynthetic photon efficacy (PPE) tells you how efficiently that light is converting the input wattage into available light photons - the PPF divided by watts used and expressed in μmol·J (micro mols/per joule).

While a generalization, cannabis plants can grow efficiently anywhere in the 850-1100 PPFD range, at  canopy’s height (they can use more PAR depending on the genetics and if certain conditions are met). Moving the distance between the canopy height and the light source can affect the overall coverage area and PPFD.

Lighting efficiency has also improved dramatically with LEDs; some high-end lights can reach the 3-4 μmol·J range, which can be highly effective in converting electricity into usable light photons. The more efficient your fixture is, the more money you save on electrical consumption and fugitive heat. Coverage area and power requirements are part of the planning and research required when designing your cultivation. Power and efficiency tell you how much energy you have to grow the crop.

CONTROL FEATURES and LED LIGHT QUALITY

If output and efficiency tell you about power, the next set of features is supportive tools for the grower. The more you know about lighting’s role in cultivation, the better you know and use light features that can help improve yield. Control the light quality, meaning the intensity, duration, and spectrum, are major aspects of lighting that could increase your flower quality (yield, cannabinoid potency) and give you a distinct advantage over those that don’t.

Light quality can trigger many different genetic expressions in cannabis, such as larger plants or varied terpene profiles. If lighting “recipes,” based on strain, can be managed through a controller or similar device, not only will you have a better quality plant, but you can access these features instantly or remotely.  You can also initiate automation and or can record data.

With a master controller or lighting controller, a grower now has the option of managing several lights or a whole room all at once. With these features, you could manage a plant from seed to harvest under one light, with no need to have separate areas for different stages of a plant’s life cycle because you can control both intensity and spectrum based on programmed set times. You would also be able to program and save your recipe for use whenever you want.

A display of the current settings or software that can provide info on wattage use, efficiency, light quality, and temperatures can be used in data collection and/or managed to make real-time adjustments. With this data, you can also run diagnostics alongside other information (such as harvest batch records) collected in your cultivation environment. This allows decisions to improve efficiency and effectiveness in your cultivation environment.

You can also control these functions remotely or through WIFI, which makes it extremely convenient for those that don’t have enough time to be physically on-site. Controllers can also initiate fail-safe measures such as the unit temperature when it gets too hot. So once the fixture reaches a particular temperature deemed too hot, the light will shut off or drop off in intensity to allow it to cool. These finer features are usually only offered in LED lights due to their precision and control.

QUALITY OF BUILD AND PARTS

All these features do not work effectively if they aren’t built with quality parts and intuitive operation. The quality of the fixture build also lends to how effective it is and its longevity. All controllers should have innate and progressive operation programming to make things simplistic for the user.

Having passive cooling and the use of heat dispersing materials are more desirable than including fans and other moving parts needed to keep a light cool and at optimal temperature. Plug and play assembly is easier for setup and performing changes or repairs. The simpler the lighting unit is, the easier it is to operate and maintain.

The high-end quality of the bulb/diodes and their efficiency indicate fixtures with longer warranties. Cheap diodes and bulbs degrade fast. In just a few months, a low-quality diode will start to degrade to the point where the plants will start to show detrimental effects, which is not ideal for yields or quality.

Many diodes are cheap and won’t last long, so when you see the same light with the same specs for a few hundred dollars cheaper, it may be because they are using cheaper diodes from inferior bin batches. Understanding the type of diode and its batch/bin rating becomes essential when looking at diode quality. You can usually find the specifications of diode chips used in a fixture from the manufacturer, including bin numbers; this will describe their quality, especially efficiency.

In addition to diodes, electrical drivers used to convert the electricity to send power to the diodes must be efficient, create as little heat as possible, and have operational longevity. A light fixture with quality parts will last longer and have a better warranty.

Green Ambers’ own LED-ONE uses top-tier diodes and drivers; that is why it comes with a 5-year warranty. All other parts should be sturdy (especially hanging points) and easy to clean, for grow environments are all different and can become full of dust and dirt.

CERTIFICATIONS, TESTING, AND RATINGS

LEDs are considered energy-efficient light sources that can accurately measure power/efficiency by getting tested and certified. The most renowned lighting efficiency certification is done through the Designated Light Consortium (DLC, the largest non-profit energy-saving agency in the world). DLC has several certification categories, including horticultural lighting used in cannabis.

Energy star and assembly standards (such as ISO) can also verify the validity of operation, assembly, and testing of your light. Electrical product standards, such as Underwriters Laboratory (UL), ensure that lighting products meet the basic electrical code of standards. The IP or Ingress Protection code looks at the ability of accidentally having water or dust penetration the fixture; the higher the rating, the better protection you have.

Having these standards associated with your light ensures a certified quality build, but you can also rely on operational numbers for planning decisions and potentially qualify for local rebates.

PRICE AND REBATES

Many of these certifications, especially on the energy efficiency side, can assist you in accessing energy rebates from your local utility provider once you purchase a light fixture. There are many instances of appropriately tested and certified lights that can access more than 50% of rebates from the retail price. This benefit makes it affordable to purchase new technology. If you need help finding rebates and need to maximize energy efficiency, we can help with auditing and finding the right fit for your lighting needs.

WARRANTY and SUPPORT

Lights are the most heavily used piece of equipment in a cultivation space; they must be reliable. Traditional lighting sources used to have warranties in the 2–3 year range but also require new bulbs every few months. With the reliability of the LED technology, five-year warranties are the new standard (50,000-60,000 hours of use).

Importantly, whomever you purchase your lights from, you may want to know what technical and general cultivation support they will be available to offer. Knowing how to manipulate your lights to make cannabis thrive should be the support they offer in addition to equipment longevity. The process for addressing warrantied or damaged items should also play into your consideration of warranty features; it should be as easy as possible.

At Green Amber, we cultivate cannabis so we can help you transition to or dial in your lighting requirements. Feel free to contact us anytime; we are more than happy to discuss cannabis lighting and some of the features we’ve mentioned here.

 

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