Cannabis is a lucrative crop but it has one big caveat: the energy intensity of its production. As more and more states are legalizing marijuana in the United States, the energy demand of cannabis growers is putting a strain on both their profit margins and the electric grid. Importantly, Illinois recently announced that when its new law legalizing recreational marijuana takes effect Jan. 1, growers will face some of the strongest energy efficiency and reporting requirements in the country (Thill, 2019). This law could lead other states to follow suit, reinforcing the need for the cannabis industry to start turning to renewables to mitigate its energy appetite.
Most cannabis growing businesses operate indoors in order to better control environmental conditions and to optimize yields and product potency (Henke, 2019). Several studies estimate that the electric bill makes up as much as half of total energy costs! Indoor production requires near round-the-clock artificial lighting, sophisticated HVAC systems, laboratory-rated processing equipment, on top of general office equipment and general office electricity needs. In fact, the energy-intensity of an indoor grow facility can be on par with that of a data server facility (Henke, 2019). Furthermore, with high energy use come high CO2 emissions. Evan Mills famous 2011 study on the carbon footprint of indoor cannabis facilities found that producing 1 kg of cannabis created nearly 4600 kg of CO2.
There is clearly a bottom line problem, but there is also a solution: harnessing the power of the sun. By installing solar arrays on their cultivation facilities, growers can easily reduce both their operating costs and dependance on the grid, as well as their carbon footprint. It’s a win-win situation. With increased competition, increased regulation, and a greater demand for quality cannabis, the stakes are far greater for the cannabis industry. Clearly, “green” businesses like cannabis businesses should focus on green solutions to cut down energy use and make their production process more sustainable, both economically and environmentally. With local solar incentives and falling prices of clean technologies, now is the time to go solar!