LEDs gain dominance in cannabis trade

Oct. 26, 2022
Over 70% of North American growers are now using the light source, according to the latest survey. Energy is the biggest reason. But there are others.

LED lighting use continues to surge among indoor and greenhouse cannabis farms in North America, as over 70% of respondents to the latest annual State of the Cannabis Lighting Market survey stated they now deploy the technology.

What’s more, the number is at least 70% across all three growth phases: propagation, vegetation, and the once-lagging LED category of flowering according to the 2022 survey, carried out by Stillwater, Minn.–based Readex Research for Cannabis Business Times in partnership with LED lighting vendor Fluence.

The 70%-plus is up from last year’s 60%-plus. Six years ago, in the inaugural 2016 survey, 21% of grow facilities used LEDs for propagation, 17% for vegetation, and 15% for flowering.

Most — 83% — of this year’s 137 respondents singled out the energy efficiency of LEDs when asked to cite the technology’s top three benefits. More than half — 55% — also put “low heat” on the list. Growers can mount LED racks closer to crops, allowing them to stack cannabis plants vertically and thus make more use of square footage than they can with hotter high-pressure sodium (HPS) lights, which they place higher in non-stacked settings to avoid heat damage.

In a related but different category, 46% of respondents who are considering LED lighting identified “lower power usage” as the leading purchasing factor, making it the number one consideration, followed by “cost of retrofit” at 46%, “ease of installation” at 25% and “higher intensity” at 22%. They did not specifically identify “low heat,” although possibly it is implied in retrofit costs.

Intensity was especially important to respondents making purchasing decisions in the flowering category, in which 53% identified it as a top factor, followed by price at 52%, light spectrum at 51%, energy efficiency at 48%, and “must be LED” at 43%. Of those five factors, LED would seem to have the edge in all but “price.”

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The use of LEDs in the flowering stage has come on strong after having trailed propagation and vegetation in the first several years of the survey. The 2022 survey, conducted in July and August, showed that LEDs have nudged past vegetation, with 71% of respondents saying they use LEDs in flowering, 70% in vegetation, and 74% in propagation.

Nevertheless, a fair number of LED flowering holdouts are still on the fence, as 30% said they are planning LED for flowering over the next 12 months, 33% said they are not, 30% said they are considering it, and 4% are not sure.

Rounding out other lighting types: In flowering, 30% use HPS and 7% use fluorescent; in vegetation, 17% use fluorescent and 12% use metal halide; and in propagation, 30% use fluorescent and 9% use HPS.

The percentages can exceed 100 in each stage because many growers use more than one type of lighting.

But LEDs are coming on strong.

Case in point: grower Jay Bouton told LEDs Magazine that while he has “a soft spot” for conventional lighting, “overall I would never buy another HPS light again.”

Bouton is the senior director of cultivation of Bethesda, Maryland–based cannabis farm Culta, which uses LEDs in all of its propagation and vegetation rooms, and which has outfitted three of its six flowering rooms with LEDs while continuing to use HPS in three older flowering rooms.

He cited the low heat as one of the factors in the move to LED. Culta’s LED flowering rooms have a smaller footprint than its HPS flowering rooms, but house 2,048 ft2 of stacked canopy, compared to the 1,540 ft2 of single-tier canopy in the HPS flowering rooms.

Culta is planning a huge expansion of indoor growing should Maryland voters legalize recreational cannabis on Tuesday, Nov. 8. Four other states are having similar votes — Arkansas, Missouri, North Dakota, and South Dakota. All five states permit medical use.

MARK HALPER is a contributing editor for LEDs Magazine, and an energy, technology, and business journalist ([email protected]).

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