By Jennifer Thorne Amann
This year’s 4/20, the high holiday of marijuana culture, comes at a time of robust growth for the cannabis industry. All puns aside, this growth underscores the industry’s need for energy efficiency. As the market develops in states like California, where recreational sales began in January, and Massachusetts, which follows suit in July, and as additional medical and recreational markets emerge around the country, energy efficiency can help reduce the energy use and pollution associated with cannabis cultivation, processing, and distribution facilities. The cannabis industry has expressed interest in efficiency’s other benefits, such as increasing market competitiveness and achieving sustainability.
Indoor cannabis cultivation is an energy intensive enterprise. Initial estimates suggest that the average cultivation facility uses 10 times as much energy, per square foot, as the typical office building. To successfully grow cannabis indoors, cultivators must recreate ideal outdoor climate conditions. Doing so requires significant energy to operate high-intensity lighting, HVAC, and dehumidification systems. Efficient equipment and practices (such as LED lighting and advanced HVAC systems) can slash energy use relative to traditional indoor cultivation techniques. However, outstanding questions remain about the most appropriate ways to cut energy use while maintaining optimal growing conditions.
There are no comprehensive national statistics on energy use in the cannabis industry, but data from states with legal commercial cultivation facilities are eye-opening. In Colorado, cannabis grow operations consume an estimated 300 gigawatt-hours (GWh) of electricity per year—0.6% of the state’s total electricity consumption. In Denver, the hub of the state’s cannabis industry, roughly 4% of electricity demand comes from such indoor operations. In Washington State, energy loads from indoor cultivation are forecasted to grow from an estimated 80-102 average megawatts in 2014 (about 1% of total demand in Washington) to 180-300 average megawatts by 2035. Over just a six-month period in Portland, Oregon, Pacific Power reported at least seven power outages due to indoor cannabis cultivation…
Amann is Buildings Program Director with the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE), a nonprofit, 501(c)(3) organization that acts as a catalyst to advance energy efficiency policies, programs, technologies, investments, and behaviors. She promotes residential and commercial whole building performance improvements, explores behavioral approaches to improving energy efficiency, and analyzes the impacts of stronger appliance efficiency standards.