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Managing smart lighting installs within indoor farming environments

November 1, 2022 | By Bryan Fried

The boom in indoor farming will also drive growth in the need for electrical contractors’ services.

November 1, 2022 – Electrical contractors are frequently faced with taking direction from owners to reduce operational budgets, but this may change as new opportunities for contractors arise.

Market research and consulting firm Grand View Research estimates the global market for indoor farming will reach over $75 billion by 2028. This points to the potential for smartly constructed indoor farms to offer better yields, while producing food closer to market.

The boom in indoor farming will also drive growth in the need for electrical contractors’ services, especially for the installation of lighting arrays and smart monitoring systems that are key components of the projected market growth.

Lighting and energy account for a sizable portion of an indoor farm’s annual budget, giving contractors an opportunity to implement new technologies that can ensure production while realizing savings.


Increasing demand for artificial sunlight

With grow houses expanding to multi-level vertical farms, natural sunlight exposure is no longer possible, thereby increasing the need to employ commercial lighting for production.

LED lighting is well-known for its energy efficiency but, prior to 2010, the high cost of white LED diodes made commercial LED lighting impractical for widespread use. Those diodes were simply too expensive for the market as compared to HID (high-intensity discharge) light sources.

After 2010, manufacturers offered LED diodes at more attractive price points. They also improved their technical specifications, with lumen outputs and efficacy reaching higher levels. Owners and managers noticed this shift and, in turn, tasked electrical contractors with optimizing their operations with LED lighting to reduce energy costs without sacrificing any production capacity.

To fulfil this need, contractors turn to advanced LED lighting products with an array of feature sets, including remote driver options, daisy-chain capabilities, broad light spectrums, and availability in both 120V-277V and 277V-480V configurations.

Shifting toward LEDs and smart lighting

Enabling cost savings in a modern indoor farming environment requires more than just efficient LED light sources. Contractors are pairing these lights with smart technology to automate various operations, analyze data and conditions in real-time, and collect various data points. With these technologies, installers can satisfy demands for a data-driven operation, as growers continually look for competitive edges that can help them maximize yields while reducing costs.

By providing clients with air flow data, humidity, temperature, PAR (photosynthetic active radiation) levels and other data points via the right technology tools and platforms, contractors can introduce another value-add to their clients.

Indoor farming operators often request LED light sources for reduced energy usage, especially when compared to HPS or fluorescent lights. LED lighting emits a more evenly dispersed, cooler light, which produces efficiency through lower HVAC expenses and higher yields.

Contractors can leverage these improvements with sensors and analytics, such as wireless operations systems, and pair programmable lighting with temperature and humidity smart controls, giving growers more customization options that can be aligned with specific plants. Such an approach is a contrast to the typical manual grow process, where a grower uses trial-and-error and has difficult time replicating successful outcomes.

Ultimately, technology-augmented growing allows for repeatable cycles and harvests. It can also protect crops from temperature spikes and soil moisture problems, events that active monitoring can catch immediately, and would otherwise require manual detection where any in-response action might be too late.

A tech-based system records every parameter of a successful grow session. Contractors can present these outfits as efficiency tools and competitive advantages, as growers can simply call up past parameters for a specific harvest and repeat and scale their operation. These systems’ automation features can fix non-conforming situations and reduce manual workforce time spent on monitoring.

For an example of these systems in action, consider PAR levels and lighting cycles: by recording and programming these levels into a platform, installers can also put in place PAR sensors, and set the system to adjust light levels within the associated software to provide ideal light conditions at the right time. Growers can also control each light at its source, so they can manage plant zones at a granular level.

Installing a wireless system

Wireless systems are here! The leading options can connect 3000+ fixtures on a single gateway, with no wiring them, thereby granting full wireless control of individual light fixtures and pre-set zones while gathering data and generating real-time reporting.

Installing a wireless system is simple and fast. You need only to hang the fixtures and connect the power. The data connections commence immediately upon power-up as each light source (or grouping) signal communicates with the gateway automatically. (The software provider helps the customer with commissioning, as well as the initial layout set-up, based on that software.)

This configuration also eliminates the clutter of wires that are required by most wired systems. Lighting systems connected by RJ12 connectors represent an additional failure point: most RJ12s in the market are not IP rated, which translates into additional maintenance and follow-up because plants are grown under moist conditions, and growers often hose down equipment.

A truly wireless system has no connection points between fixtures, as the technology is usually built into the driver compartment. Hence, the issues with wired systems are simply not present.

A hemp grower case study

HMP is the largest hemp farm operation in Utah. When undertaking an upgrade and expansion of its facilities, the indoor grow farmer was aware that the local utility would provide rebates for LED lighting products. RapidGrow, a subsidiary of Pangea, engaged its rebate team on behalf of HMP to determine both the maximum possible rebate, and the necessary requirements for that rebate. The extent of HMP’s options, then, were determined by this team.

The process included a photometric layout of the proposed grow environment and an analysis of the energy usage versus the lighting and PAR requirements. In less than than a month, it was determined that pairing a monitor & control software platform with an LED lighting backbone met the requirements needed to earn the utility’s maximum rebate. (The most important requirement was having individual control over each light source for maximum energy efficiency.)

Contractors followed the proposed production plan and installed fixtures to cover HMP’s 100,000-sf . The 1120-light footprint uses 480V power sources, daisy-chained together to reduce the number of drops, saving time and lowering installation costs. Installation was further simplified by installing these power sources away from the light sources. The power source location and software also reduces heat generation in the canopy growing area, providing a well-controlled grow environment.

The software platform is configured to control individual groups of fixtures, allowing HMP operators to set distinct schedules and better coordinate daylight harvesting, further lowering the energy requirements for each plant grouping.

Commissioning involved simply associating a light source—each with its own unique MAC address—with a control in the software platform. Once that was association was established, each wireless light source was immediately functional.

Sensors operate in the same manner, each sending data wirelessly to a gateway that is part of the platform. Here, commissioning only required associating that sensor with the control on the platform.

The indoor grow farm sought to maximize its rebates while improving its LED lighting capabilities and reducing energy costs. In the end, HMP’s system met all of the utility’s rebate requirements, including automated daylight controls, spectral tuning corresponding to the plants’ growth phase, and advanced scheduling that optimizes light runtime.

Because of this achievement, HMP increased its initial rebates by 37%, from $336,000 to $537,000 and, to this day, continues to derive grow benefits from its lighting-enabled smart system.

The time is now

Issues such as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and climate change highlight the need for efficient indoor farming to mitigate negative impacts on food supply. Over the next 10 years, in particular, we are going to see widespread acceptance of—and investment in—indoor farming.

Imagine installing a 5000-sf warehouse in the middle of a major city that provides the entire local population access to fresh food instead of processed, packaged goods. Forward-thinking electrical contractors who adopt smart agtech in indoor farming will play a role in bettering the world while enjoying larger revenues, greater profits and lower overhead.

Bryan Fried is the chair and CEO of Pangea Global Technologies, a technology solutions provider and manufacturer of LED lighting. He has spent his entire career in manufacturing and distribution.

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