December 25, 2017

Defining Cannabis Cultivation Energy Standards

In a recent interview, Cannabis Tech and Ellis Smith had the opportunity to discuss the future of energy efficiency and standards with energy expert John Morris, founder and board secretary of Resource Innovation Institute.



As the Chief Executive Officer of Morris Energy Consulting, his company focuses on software as a service, electric vehicles, policy & regulatory affairs, cannabis and microgrids. Previously, Morris was the director of Policy and Affairs for CLEAResult, managing energy efficiency policy in 14 Western States and Canadian Provinces.

Today, Morris uses his vast experience in energy and efficiency to help establish best practices and energy consumption standards for cannabis cultivation facilities. 

 

What Is Resource Innovation Institute (RII)?

RII is collective of energy and sustainability experts who are building relationships with growers all over the world to drive insight and develop a better understanding of what a baseline average for energy consumption in the industry looks like today versus what it could like in the future. Through their website, RII describes their mission as:

The Resource Innovation Institute promotes and quantifies energy and water conservation in the cannabis industry. As an objective, research-based, nonprofit partner, we help the legal cannabis sector achieve sustainability outcomes, advance constructive industry oversight and generate increased profitability and market differentiation. We fulfill our mission by curating venues for the exchange and validation of best practices among producers, manufacturers, utilities, design/build professionals, property owners, investors, and policymakers. Our objective is to transform the cannabis market today toward carbon-free and water-wise production.

According to Morris, despite the vast diversity in types of grow facilities, whether cannabis is being grown in a warehouse, a greenhouse, or residential basement all cultivation facilities can be more energy or water efficient.

 

The Challenges

While the technology and design of cultivation facilities is rapidly improving, there are still several challenges growers and utility companies need to overcome. For example, Morris states greenhouse design has advanced greatly in the last several years, however, due to some state limitations, not all marijuana grows can be actively seen, therefore ruling out the clear glass of a typical greenhouse design.

Certain cultivation techniques such as LED lighting have proved to be fairly energy efficient, as well, however, getting owners and growers to trust the new technology can be difficult. Morris suggested an independent third-party organization to test claims of lighting company promises in a standardized way to build more confidence. Growers want to see verified results of testing and certification, not just manufacturer claims. 

In addition, switching lighting systems for energy efficiency means adjusting the HVAC system to compensate for the decrease in heat produced by the lighting fixtures themselves. This is not a single measure approach. As Morris states, the “basement mentality” of growing is being phased out and commercial growing operations are adjusting and retooling how their plants are grown.

Another challenge many cannabis growers encounter are the HVAC economizers required by building codes. In large commercial buildings, there are a certain number of air changes required per hour, typically because there are humans in the building. However, this isn’t the best environment for plants. In fact, many growers want to pump the room full of CO2 and don’t want to exchange the air at all. RII is currently trying to address this nationally to help code departments alter the laws to fit complex indoor cannabis grows to create a customized approach with local code officials.

 

The Next Steps

Today, most cannabis growers are focused more on yield than energy costs, however, as the market shifts and pricing structures change, cannabis growers will have to start paying closer attention to profit margin and ROI. Morris points out the price on cannabis in Colorado dropped by nearly 50% in 2016, proving as the market levels out, in order to remain competitive, growers should be evaluating their energy costs now. While Morris and his colleagues at Resource Innovation Institute continue to work on a national platform to bring utilities, growers, and manufacturers together, he reminds,

“This can’t be done in silos, we have to work together. Look towards utilities and contractors as your immediate partner in energy efficiency before you even buy your property.”

Although baselines for energy use have not yet been established, RII has developed The Cannabis Power Score to help collect data and help growers assess their energy performance, lower costs and improve the industry overall. Through this tool, RII hopes to establish baseline standards for energy usage and help ensure the businesses within the cannabis industry remain sustainable for many years to come.