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BC Hydro agricultural expert to speak on LEDs and horticulture

Image of a worker in a commercial greenhouse

Are LEDs cost effective for most indoor grow operations?

Thanks in part to vendor claims on the Internet, including seductive time-lapse videos of flourishing plants, growers of everything from cucumbers to cannabis are tempted to embrace energy-saving LEDs. But there's more to LEDs and horticulture than electricity savings.

"We work closely with the largest growers here in B.C., and none to my knowledge have adopted LED lighting, at least on a very large scale," says David Rogers, a BC Hydro engineer with many years of experience in horticultural lighting and production. "They've told me that they've tried it, and they appear to have come to the same conclusion that with LEDs, their crop production was reduced and LEDs are not cheap."

Rogers will host a one-hour Industry Trend Series session for Alliance members – on Thursday, October 4 in Coquitlam – that digs into the technical and economic considerations around why BC Hydro doesn't currently offer incentives on LEDs for horticultural use. While BC Hydro supports the use of LEDs for energy and maintenance savings in many applications, for now BC Hydro considers LEDs in horticulture an emerging technology. We haven't seen validated evidence to suggest that the energy cost savings in horticulture applications outweigh the purchase costs and potential production losses of LEDs.

Rogers cites the results of several LED pilot projects, including two run by another Canadian electrical utility, for BC Hydro's caution around LEDs in horticulture. But he emphasizes the key inputs have come from the experience of B.C. growers, as lighting vendors have so far not submitted case studies or independent verification on the cost-effectiveness of LEDs as artificial lighting for plants.

Simply put, there remains uncertainty around the production rates and quality of crops grown under LEDs compared to alternatives such as high pressure sodium and metal halide. With new technologies and products coming into market, however, as well as a demo project under development with a major indoor grower, BC Hydro is hopeful to receive evidence in the near-future that LED technology may be a viable option for customers in horticulture applications.

"It's not a closed door, but we're treating it as an emerging technology. When we have enough evidence that LEDs are cost effective, and can compete in terms of their economics and technical feasibility against high pressure sodium lighting, we may be open to incentives at that point."

In the Industry Trend series session, Rogers will provide Alliance members with a basic understanding of:

  • The science of horticultural lighting, from lighting intensity to photoperiodism (seasonal changes in day length)
  • The role of the lighting spectrum (from blue to green to red to "far red") in plant growth.
  • The experience of B.C. growers, and what BC Hydro has learned so far.
  • The status of standards development for LED lighting in horticulture, through the new Design Lighting Consortium's (DLC) Horticultural LED Standard, which is proposed for completion this fall. DLC Standards are used as reference criteria by utilities for luminaire compliance in their incentive programs.

Register online

The Industry Trend Series discussion on October 4, 2018, will run from 8 a.m. to 9:15 a.m. at the Executive Plaza Hotel in Coquitlam, with breakfast starting at 7:30 a.m. Pre-registration is required and will be open until Friday, September 28. Register online now.

"I want to fill in the gaps so people know the basics of what horticultural lighting is all about," says Rogers. "It will be basic simple stuff, but I don't want to miss anything. That way, everyone will understand when I get into the standards discussion."

About David Rogers

David Rogers joined BC Hydro as an agricultural specialist in 1994 and, working closely with B.C. growers, has since helped develop BC Hydro recommendations and incentives around lighting and lighting controls.

Educated in greenhouse production and lighting en route to an agricultural engineering degree at Cranfield University in England, he graduated as one of the world's experts on nutrient film technology (hydroponics). His experience ranges from over 800 acres of custom-designed state of the art drip-irrigation projects in the Middle East to an insulated high-tech custom lighted "food factory" warehouse growing lettuce in Sudbury, Ontario. He also oversaw an innovative outdoor agricultural root-zone heating system for a large farm in California, which at the time was the largest outdoor agricultural heating system in the world, with over 200 miles of custom electron beam cross-linked heating pipes.