Growing top quality plants is the ultimate goal of every greenhouse farmer.
The greater challenge, however, in this narrow-margin business is often growing and maintaining financial success while doing so. The progressively competitive nature of the current greenhouse farming market is making it increasingly more important to understand, analyze, and minimize costs to improve profitability.
While the sunlight needed to grow plants is free, there are many other parts of the greenhouse process that are not, things like:
- Climate control (heaters, ventilation, sensors, & monitoring equipment)
- Water, soil, & nutrients
- Building materials and maintenance
- Packaging and distribution
And those are just the basics.
Like many businesses, the key to sustainably improving greenhouse margins lay in reducing costs and/or consumption, and preferably both.
Greenhouse production has increased by a factor of 6 just in the last 20 years, and the energy demands worldwide to maintain them is growing just as rapidly.
(According to the Canadian National Energy Board, the annual CPI (consumer price index) of energy has risen by 52 percent from 2012, while the general (average of all goods) CPI has only grown by 30 percent.)
For example, the amount of grow-room electricity just for the booming commercial cannabis and hemp industry is now estimated at 1% of all electricity consumed in the US.
Using Less to Grow More
With energy climbing each year, especially in winter, greenhouse growers should also be looking to reduce consumption, rather than only seeking out alternative fuel sources. This could be achieved by insulating the greenhouse and maintaining optimal climate conditions inside while minimizing heat and air transfer with the harsh outdoors.
Here are some ways to lower your energy costs and reduce consumption by improving efficiency:
Keep Out the Cold
A “leaky” greenhouse, with cracks, holes, and openings in the walls or roof allows warmed air to escape. This requires the heating system to run longer and more often to maintain the required temperatures.
This negligence in maintenance can cost growers hundreds, or even thousands, in unnecessary energy costs every year, as well as placing additional wear and tear on heating equipment.
Regular inspections, along with a little spray foam and caulk, can help stop these leaks in your grow rooms (and bank accounts) and can often reduce heating bills by up to 10%. Greenhouse integrity also helps maintain even temperature and humidity levels which improves growth production.
Insulation and Thermal Blankets
The northern wall of a greenhouse typically receives surprisingly little light.
This is especially true during the winter when the sun is lower in the sky. This not only makes it more difficult to maintain an even temperature from one side of the room to another but increases energy costs in compensating for the constant loss of heat through that wall.
Insulating the north wall of your greenhouse can significantly reduce heat loss and improve energy efficiency. Many growers use white insulation boards which, in addition to helping protect the wall from cold, can also reflect the southern sunlight back into the room instead of allowing it to pass through the north wall.
Even during the warmer months, as much as 85% of heat loss occurs at night.
A thermal blanket or curtain helps hold in the warmth of the day, reducing energy usage during the darker hours. Thermal greenhouse blankets can be a cost-efficient investment, are easy to install, and can be rolled up each morning to maximize daylight.
Heat retention blankets can reduce energy costs by up to 50%, and typically pay for themselves in just one or two years.
The best return on your energy-saving investment, however, is to pull the plug on ever-increasing electric company prices and seek out cheaper cleaner alternative energy sources.
Multitask that Sunlight!
The largest energy cost for most greenhouse businesses is the cost of maintaining growing temperatures during the colder months of the year.
With the rising expense of power-plant electricity, as well as other consumable fuels, more and more nursery and greenhouse growers are converting to solar gardens and using renewable energy to reduce both their expenses and their carbon footprint.
Using the sun to power your greenhouse is unique in that it can significantly reduce operating costs without reducing the amount of energy you’re using. In fact, depending on the size of your operation and the amount of solar power you can generate, you may even find yourself selling power back to the electric company!
The biggest hesitation, historically, for converting to a solar-powered business model has been the initial installation costs. But costs have fallen significantly in recent years, and many growers will qualify for special financing as well as tax credits and grants that could pay for the majority of the system.
Solar Power Facts
There are reasons that more than 100 “Fortune 500” companies have begun using clean, renewable solar power options, and that more are joining the ranks every day.
- It takes the average business 4 – 6 years to cover the initial installation cost.
The higher than average power needs of a greenhouse business, however, means less time to reach the “break-even” point.
- The average commercial property owner can reduce overall energy costs by 75 percent by going solar, potentially reducing a $1,950 monthly electric bill to just around $500 after converting to solar power.
Energy efficiency for your greenhouse is a great way to reduce your operating costs and improve the profitability of your operation.
Keep in mind that not every one of the measures described here will be appropriate for every house – sometimes an energy conservation measure is simply too expensive to install, relative to the expected savings. However, it’s a good chance that some of the suggestions above will help make your greenhouse more energy-efficient and cost-effective in the coming years.
Let’s Get Started!
Contact the pros at Ag Solar Solutions for a free energy analysis. We’ll visit your operation in-person and detail ways to reduce your consumption and provide a cost/benefit estimate for your own in-house energy production.
Stop worrying about energy waste and growing fuel costs and get back to being the best in the greenhouse business!