Natural Disasters: How to Prepare Your Grow for a Power OutageExtreme weather events and power outages are becoming the new normal, and cannabis operations are suffering the consequences. But here’s what growers can do their crops climate-resilient against natural disasters and energy scarcity.
According to the Northwest Power and Conservation Council (NPCC), the average indoor cannabis grow can consume 2,000 to 3,000 kilowatt (kW) hours of energy per pound of product grown, with about 38% of that energy costs from lighting and around 33% from HVAC systems. That translates to 20%-40% of operations costs being eaten up by electricity needs.
In 2021 alone, 432 catastrophic events occurred in the U.S., causing $112.5 billion in damages. And with weather-induced power outages more than double what they were just 20 years ago, the likelihood of cannabis growers experiencing power outages during their growth cycles is high. And among the states with the highest power outages are California, Texas, and New York.
HOW ARE GROW OPS AFFECTED BY A POWER OUTAGE?
In 2019, Pacific Gas & Electric cut power to up to 1.8 million users in Northern California over fears of wildfires, leaving many legal cannabis growers without electricity in the highest cannabis production region in the U.S. during October’s harvest season.
CEO and founder of Foxworthy Farms, Martin O’Brien, whose operation was affected during the outage, feared the worst for his crop, stating that “mold can slaughter a crop in a day” and “in less than 24 hours that stuff can get damaged.”
In the case of Northern California, indoor cannabis operations were likely hurt more due to their dependence on electronic systems and the electrical grid. However, outdoor grows in this region saw warmer temperatures and little chance of rain which diminished their chance of mold or inundation.
But that is not always the case. For example, in locations where floods or hurricanes may cause power outages, outdoor operations could easily perform poorly and suffer the rapid onset of erosion and disease.
THE DARKER SIDE
While natural disasters are among the largest drivers of power outages, it is crucial to understand that there are energy-demanding industries that disproportionately contribute to energy disruption. Ironically, among these energy-intensive industries is cannabis.
In Rotherham, England, 61 cannabis farms were shut down for causing local power outages up to four times per day. And in the summer of 2015, in Portland, Oregon, seven indoor cannabis grows overloaded circuits, causing a power outage to neighbor energy customers, with one leading to the blowing out of a transformer.
The cannabis industry’s energy dilemma is a double-sided coin. On the one hand, growing operations are highly susceptible to energy cuts, yet on the other hand, those same energy-insecure operations can act as the cause of those very cuts, as well as perpetuate energy scarcity for the communities they do operate in. This leaves growers with not only the choice but the responsibility to solve their energy insecurities.
HOW CAN GROWERS PREPARE AND ADAPT?
With the effects of climate change here to stay, natural disasters such as heat waves, drought, hurricanes, floods, extreme storms, and wildfires are something all farmers will need to learn how to deal with. This is especially true for cannabis growers because the lack of federal regulation prevents them from receiving disaster relief aid from the government if their farms are negatively impacted.
But there are readily available energy solutions that growers can employ to reduce their burden on the electrical grid and ensure healthy, viable crops year after year.
If growers decide to incorporate solar panel systems into their operations, they first need to consider its limitations. For growers with rooftop solar panels, their energy goes directly to the power grid and is credited back to consumers’ homes or businesses. While growers can greatly benefit from the cost savings of this system, if there is a region or neighborhood-wide power outage, growers will no longer have power.
Installing solar panels with battery storage systems with lithium-ion batteries provides a slightly more expensive though more secure energy solution.
Improving an operation’s efficiency is a smart option for any growers, whether looking to cut electricity costs, increase growth security or produce better cannabis products faster. There are countless ways to increase a grow’s efficiency. However, one of the most impactful measures is incorporating LEDs into your lighting systems. LED does not only help reduce energy costs but is also better for the environment and the quality of flower growth.
Backup generators are an excellent option for growers seeking a short-term solution to unexpected blackouts. The U.S. Energy Information Administration estimates that the average power outage lasts around 5.8 hours. With most residential backup generators capable of running for up to 3,000 hours, this option is an easy way to ensure that all bases are covered in the event of even unusually long power outages, such as those experienced throughout Texas this past winter.
As climate and energy concerns threaten the world and challenge the cannabis industry to prepare itself for increased stress, new and improved technologies are becoming more affordable and accessible.
Ultimately, growers with battery-stored solar power systems, backup generators, and/or innovative troubleshooting capacity will be more resilient to power outages and natural disasters and can serve as a leading example of how other industries can adapt to these new realities.