How improving lighting helps greenhouses save

By Ted Leonard, VP Market Operations - May 19, 2022

Upgrading greenhouse lighting is the single most important way to save money and energy.


TL;DR

  • The U.S. horticultural sector spends over $1 billion on lighting annually—LEDs would save the industry $350 million each year.

  • Greenhouses with LED lights are more efficient and can respond to local weather and market conditions to maximize savings.

  • Many greenhouses are hesitant to upgrade, losing out on energy savings because of a lack of funding.



Greenhouses use a lot of energy — lighting alone accounts for between 10–30 percent of total greenhouse operating costs. Maximizing lighting efficiency should be top of mind for every greenhouse operator.

From hardware upgrades to automating lighting control systems, there are substantial savings to be captured.

LEDs are a more efficient and flexible lighting option


Thanks to growing demand for local plants and produce, the greenhouse sector is expanding. This also means the amount of energy used by the greenhouse industry is rising.

For example, annual greenhouse electricity consumption in Ontario is projected to rise 180 percent to 3.9 terawatt hours (TWh) by 2024, compared to 2018.

Larger facilities and year-round growing seasons increase electricity costs—over $1 billion was spent on horticultural lighting in the U.S. in 2019 alone.

In fact, lighting uses more electricity than all other greenhouse processes combined.

Many greenhouses continue to rely on double-ended high-pressure sodium (DE-HPS) grow lamps, which are less efficient than LED systems. For example, if all Ontario greenhouses switched to LED lighting, they’d save as much as 550 gigawatt hours (GWh) annually by 2024. That’s more than C$41 million in savings from one upgrade.

Similarly, wholesale LED adoption in the U.S. horticultural sector would see annual savings of $350 million. This figure includes indoor (high-intensity sole source) operations—such facilities represented 87 percent of U.S. horticultural lighting demand in 2019.

Overall, switching to LEDs generates energy savings of between 35–55 percent. LEDs also provide point-source, directional output. In other words, LEDs can target where they shine light, unlike DE-HPS bulbs that emit in all directions, wasting energy.

Lighting uses more electricity than all other greenhouse processes combined.

“In many cases, light is the most poorly controlled environmental variable in greenhouses [...] Good control over light is at least as important as temperature control,” explains Marc van Iersel, Dooley Professor of Horticulture at the University of Georgia.

Aside from efficiency, the main advantage of LED systems is their programmability. Linking LED systems with predictive or monitoring algorithms increases savings by using smart devices to their full potential.

For example, by training algorithms to monitor sunlight levels, control systems can tailor LED brightness in real time. Research by Project LAMP shows that such a tailored approach decreases electricity costs by 33 percent during the spring.

Incorporating sunlight monitoring is easier than you may think, as well-established industry sunlight forecasts already exist to help utilities manage solar power generation.

Another benefit of this programmability is that automated LED systems can rapidly respond to market conditions. By staggering greenhouse lighting cycles during peak hours, greenhouses can reduce demand without hurting production.

LEDs can also be dimmed to take advantage of peak pricing without impacting plant growth.

Plants are adaptive, which means that, “the timing of electricity use for supplemental lighting is much more flexible than electricity uses in most other industries,” explains van Iersel. “Thus, greenhouses in principle can act as a buffer for the electrical grid.”

Upgrading (and automating) greenhouse lighting systems slashes electricity costs. Despite these proven savings, many greenhouses continue to operate as they always have, often with inefficient lighting solutions.

What is preventing more greenhouses from upgrading their lighting systems?

Too many greenhouses aren’t maximizing their energy savings


DE-HPS bulbs have been the industry standard for decades, but they waste a lot of light and heat. This raises electricity costs and increases the amount of energy used by temperature control systems to deal with waste heat.

The solution is to opt for LED lighting systems, but while LED prices have decreased, they remain more expensive than DE-HPS.

The higher upfront cost of LED systems makes many greenhouse operators reluctant or unable to switch. This hesitancy stems from both a lack of sufficient capital, and concerns about production interruptions.

The key to helping greenhouses maximize their savings is bridging the funding gap

Another issue is the crowded lighting marketplace, and the fact that not all LEDs are created equal—as seen by the wide range of energy savings estimates.

Even when companies are willing to invest, they are often hampered by a lack of funding. Waiting to secure enough funding means more missed savings. Trying to navigate the complex cleantech funding landscape is difficult and time-consuming.

All these factors create risks for customers, making them reluctant to commit. Ironically, the savings which lighting upgrades accrue can quickly pay for themselves.

The key to helping greenhouses maximize their savings is bridging the funding gap—making it as simple as possible for projects to get started.

How EnPowered unlocks lighting projects and savings


Boosting the number of energy-efficient greenhouses is a win-win for solution providers and greenhouse operators — this is where EnPowered comes in.

Accelerating the adoption of clean technology will help fight climate change, but too many projects remain stalled because of funding hurdles. EnPowered Payments—an on-bill payments platform—helps unlock stalled lighting projects by minimizing risk for customers.

And by paying for lighting projects through their electricity bill with a portion of their energy savings, customers take ownership of their lighting solution right away.

Ready to learn more? Contact us today to discover how Payments can help unlock your stalled lighting projects.

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