Herb grower uses lighting upgrade to save money, cut excess heat

Image of Peter Hoffmann, Barnston Island Herbs
Peter Hoffmann, owner of Barnston Island Herbs, says that inefficient lighting generated heat that caused problems. "If somebody would leave our fans off in the greenhouse, even on a rainy day, we could fry all our plants," he says.

Replacing 320 inefficient fixtures will save $9,000 a year in energy costs

If you're going to change one thing in your operations, use the opportunity to take a close look at everything.

That's the advice of Peter Hoffmann, owner of Barnston Island Herbs in Surrey. An energy-efficient industrial lighting retrofit has helped the supplier of fresh herbs save $9,000 a year on energy costs. At the same time, it provided an opportunity to improve processes, adding to savings, reducing risks and costs, and making employees' lives easier.

The Hoffmann family bought the company in 1987 from its original owner. The farm's operations are spread across six greenhouses; herbs are grown in four vertical tiers of hanging trays, with lighting directly above each tier augmenting the sunlight 16 hours a day.

"I inherited the system that he developed," says Hoffmann. "We'd operated in the same way for many years; things were growing well. And the nature of our business is, 'If it isn't broke, don't fix it.'"

But a letter from the BC Restaurant and Food Association promoting energy efficiency caught Hoffmann's eye, and he decided to undergo an energy audit. That convinced him it was worth replacing the farm's 320 fluorescent light fixtures with newer energy-efficient versions. And, it gave him a chance to improve in other ways too.

Energy efficient lighting is cooler, less heavy, and longer-lived

The new energy efficient fluorescent lamps and fixtures offered significant improvements.

"The thing that attracted me to the project is the newer ballasts," says Hoffmann. "They're smaller, they use less energy, and they give off a lot less heat. That was always one of our big problems, especially in the warmer months. If somebody would leave our fans off in the greenhouse, even on a rainy day, we could fry all our plants."

The lighter weight of the new lighting was also a plus. As the herb plants mature, the distance between lights and plants is adjusted for maximum growing results. But the old lighting was heavy and awkward to raise and lower, and the nylon cords that were used would degrade over time, continually needing replacement.

"The new lights weigh about a quarter of what the old ones do, so it's much easier," Hoffmann says. "And we replaced the strings with chains, so they're never going to degrade. It made our operation a bit easier, so in addition to having the power saving, we're saving on labour now too."

Better lighting control, and protection against breakage

Hoffmann also had shatter guards installed on the new fixtures, because a single shattered fluorescent tube can ruin $500 worth of restaurant-ready herbs. The guards also make it easier to dust the lighting, which must be done to ensure they are providing maximum light to the plants.

Finally, he had switches installed on each fixture, instead of one switch to every eight. Now, when a rack is empty, it's switched off, which Hoffmann estimates may be saving an additional 10 per cent on energy costs.

Further savings have come from the longer life of the energy efficient lighting. Hoffmann says the farm used to re-lamp every year, but the new lights are expected to last three times as long as the old ones, again reducing maintenance costs.

And since the new lights use less energy, Hoffmann has been able to add fixtures in the warehouse without requiring additional power service, improving light levels to easily pass food inspection requirements.

The Barnston Island lighting retrofit cost about $100,000 and qualified for a Power Smart incentive of $27,060 through Power Smart's Self-Serve Incentive Program. The additional improvements and savings — from turning off unused lights to reduced maintenance time and effort — have made the project worth even more.

Says Hoffmann, "It made sense to do it. We got new equipment, and at the same time, it allowed us to change a little bit of our process. Everything adds up. When you're doing a retrofit or a change, you want to look at what else can you do."