Solar technology is progressing every day. People who grow plants indoors now have better ways to use grow lights, thanks to more powerful solar cells. Solar cells can now generate enough power to power all kinds of indoor growing gear, including grow lights.
Solar grow lights are becoming increasingly popular as people look for ways to reduce their carbon footprint and save money on energy bills. Solar grow lights use solar panels to convert sunlight into electrical energy, then power the grow light.
Solar grow lights are a great option for indoor growers who want to reduce their impact on the environment. Solar grow lights are also becoming more affordable as technology improves.
If you’re thinking about switching to solar grow lights, you should know a few things. This guide will teach you everything you need to know about solar grow lights, including how they work, the benefits of using them, how to shop for a solar grow light and how to use them efficiently.
Why do we need solar grow lights?
Solar grow lights capture solar energy and reuse the same to help grow plants indoors. This remarkable integration of nature and technology can help you reduce your carbon footprint and at the same time keep your energy bills reined in.
Indoor gardening may be a pastime for many apartment dwellers, however, if you are planning to grow crops inside, the success or failure of this will matter more. Theoretically solar grow lights may be a great concept but will it really give you the same yield as outdoor farming?
The success of growing crops indoors with the help of solar grow lights is in their ability to mimic sunlight. Sunlight is the source of energy for plants. Plants need light radiation from the sun to process water and carbon dioxide into a sugar known as glucose. Glucose provides energy for plants to grow and make substances such as starch and cellulose.
Earlier, farmers could grow only selective plants indoors. Since the invention of grow lights, indoor farming has boomed. Again, the large amount of electricity consumed by grow lights is an area of concern for farmers. This drastically affects their profitability. The advent of solar grow lights is a true blessing.
If you are still in doubt about the effectiveness of solar technology to power grow lights, read on.
The secret behind the success of solar grow lights
Indoor farming is possible only if sunlight can be reproduced indoors. Grow lights using grid energy have proven their effectiveness for a while now. As this adds a huge financial burden to the farmer, the necessity for an alternative needs to be explored.
Grow lights need to be kept switched on for up to 12 hours to mimic the natural sunlight. If the indoor farm is extensive, the number of grow lights also goes up. Keeping them all working for 12 hours a day results in exorbitant electricity bills.
Solar grow lights are as effective as regular ones, especially for small-scale cultivators. Small indoor farmers can completely rely on solar grow lights to run the show. For larger operations, choosing solar grow lights can cut down the energy costs by 25-50% or even more, depending on the setup.
How can solar grow lights cut down costs?
Grow light is a great invention for indoor farmers. It allows them to grow crops indoors, even when there is no sunlight available. However, as the size of indoor cultivation gets bigger, the energy bills also increase astronomically. The main limitation of this technology is the cost.
When the source of energy for grow lights is a solar panel, you can avoid the burden on energy bills. But you also need to take into account the high investment cost for solar panels and related equipment.
The good news for anyone who wants to switch over to solar energy is the dropping cost of solar equipment. The extensive R&D happening in the field is helping in improving the technology at a pace much faster than expected. This directly translates to a reduction in equipment cost and high efficiency.
Even after all these, solar equipment is still a substantive investment for most farmers. A point to remember here is that it doesn’t take too much time to recover the initial investment in equipment.
That is why solar grow lights are highly recommended for indoor cultivation. But before going solar shopping, it is imperative for farmers to gain a better idea about their energy consumption and to analyze the pros and cons of solar grow lights for their indoor farms.
How to calculate your energy usage?
You will find here the calculations for a standard grow tent of dimension 4’x4’. It is estimated that it needs 7.2 kWh of energy to keep a single 600W grow bulb burning for 12 hours a day. This comes to 216 kWh per month. You can figure out how much this will cost you if you know the energy slabs in your location.
You need to remember that this energy consumption is by a single grow light for a single grow tent. On a farm, there will be many more. This means the energy consumption from grow lights will be tremendous for a bigger indoor farm.
To calculate the power consumption of your indoor farm, you may use this formula.
The wattage of each bulb x number of bulbs = total wattage (you may convert this to kilo-watt by dividing the figure arrived at by 1000)
Total energy consumed (in kWh) = total wattage (in kW) x 12 hours x 30 days
Once you have the electricity usage in kWh, all you need is the local electricity rates to calculate the financial implications of grow lights. In the US, electricity rates differ from state to state, with the average around $0.12/kWh. In California, it can be as high as $0.24/kWh.
Things to consider before opting for solar grow lights
As mentioned earlier, solar grow lights are a big investment. So, before going ahead with the plan to buy them, farmers should also consider their drawbacks in detail. This step is important to avoid waste of resources as well as to identify the best-suited solar equipment.
Here are some features you should pay attention to as a farmer.
As this has a major impact on the growth of plants and their output, you need to choose this with care. Another reason why you should invest time in this choice is that your choice will reflect on the cost incurred.
These are the common options available to you for indoor lighting needs for your farm.
This is a popular choice among indoor cultivators. With advances in technology, these bulbs come with a wider light spectrum, making them an excellent choice for certain crops. The other benefits it offers are safety, affordability, and less wastage of energy as heat.
High-intensity discharge bulb
The HID bulbs are electrical gas-discharge arc lamps that produce light by creating an arc between two electrodes. The most common types of HID lamps are high-pressure sodium (HPS), mercury vapor (MV), and metal halide (MH). The advantages include long life, less heat, low operating cost, and choice of light color.
Light emitting diode bulb
LED grow lights are the best choice for farmers who want to keep their electric consumption low, though the bulb itself is more expensive. Although it took time to gain acceptance among indoor farmers, LED grow lights are favored now as they produce minimal heat. Also, they can be pre-programmed to switch on and off at desired times.
All the bulbs mentioned above can be teamed up with solar panels but most farmers prefer LED grow lights over others because of their very low electricity consumption.
How to manage solar grow lights?
Maintenance is not a big concern for solar products as they are made to last for 20-25 years or even more. This makes solar power systems a solid investment.
However, the same is not the case with the bulbs. They will need periodic replacement. So, farmers need to factor the cost of replacement into their expenses.
Solar panels are low-maintenance installations as they do not have any moving parts. But the panel surface needs to be kept clean to ensure higher efficiency. This can be managed by the periodical removal of accumulated dirt and debris. If this is not done, this will form a layer on top of the panel and obstruct the absorption of sunlight.
How often cleaning needs to be done will depend on your location. Monitoring it for a few months will give you an idea.
As the world is grappling with the impact of global warming and climate change, there is a big push to adopt solar energy. To make it enticing for citizens, world countries are offering all kinds of subsidies, tax cuts, and discounts on solar products.
The United States is at the forefront of the “Go Solar” movement. While the federal government is offering a limited-time offer of a federal tax cut for installing solar power systems for domestic and commercial use, state and local governments are also pitching in with their own incentives.
Technological progress in the solar sector
Before you pick your solar grow light, you also need to be aware of the lightning pace of scientific advancements in this field. Try to understand all the choices available to you and pick the most suitable one.
If a specific spectrum light is more suitable for your crop, don’t go in for a broad spectrum one. Choosing a broad spectrum light will also work but the correct color grow light will be more effective and will give you more yield.
It would be highly beneficial if you can understand the nuances of technology. In particular, about the red grow light. Red grow light is immensely helpful in plant growth and food production. This invention has changed the fortunes of indoor cultivation altogether.
Solar grow lights: Working explained
Even though tapping solar energy had been known to us for more than a century, it was in 1954 that Bell Labs created the world’s first usable silicon cell. Despite the utility of this invention, it didn’t gain popularity for a long time. The cost was one factor. And technology was also not user-friendly.
For the next 5 decades, technology witnessed so many advancements. But it was only after the turn of this century that solar technology started gaining in popularity. By then, governments across the world also realized the need to shake free our dependence on fossil fuels. Technological advancements brought down the cost of solar equipment, while governments pitched in incentives.
Solar panels are made up of photovoltaic cells. These cells absorb the photons in the sunlight, triggering a flow of electrons, which constitute an electric current. As solar panels can generate electricity only during the daytime, including a solar battery bank in the setup will help with a round-the-clock power supply.
The grow lights connected to the solar system can continue providing light any time of the day or night, drawing power from the battery.
How are solar grow lights beneficial to farmers?
For a farmer venturing into indoor crop cultivation, grow lights are essential. However, because of the variety available in grow lights, you must understand the pros and cons of each and choose wisely.
Here are some of the most prominent reasons for choosing solar grow lights for indoor farming.
- By tapping solar energy for growing crops, you can do your bit for the environment. As we are fast running out of fossil fuels, we must avoid their use whenever possible.
- Going solar will ensure that your running cost is near zero. Though solar installation requires a high initial investment, this can be easily recovered within the first few years of use.
- Solar energy is clean, green, renewable, and sustainable.
- Solar-powered appliances are typically low on maintenance. All it needs is periodic cleaning.
- When you are using grow lights to grow plants indoors, you have the advantage of choosing the color of the light to suit the plant.
Why should you choose solar grow light?
One of the most common reasons for choosing solar grow lights is that it allows you freedom from grid energy. As grow lights need to be kept switched on for up to 12 hours, the cost factor is significant. Using solar energy to keep them running helps in keeping the expense involved in check.
However, the initial investment is high for solar grow lights as solar panels, inverters, and batteries add to the cost. You need to remember that you can recover this investment in just a few years as the operating cost is virtually nil.
Solar grow light is good news for indoor farmers, as the solar panels are capable of generating enough power to keep the lights shining bright. If you install more solar panels, you will have excess energy to run other farming equipment such as exhaust fans and ventilation systems.
A 3-4 kW solar system can support the energy needs of a 4’x4’ grow tent. When calculating your energy needs, don’t cut it too fine. It’s always better to err on the higher side. Because on rainy or cloudy days, the solar system won’t generate enough power. Excess energy stored in the battery will come useful.
If you are living in a location with too many rainy/cloudy days, it makes sense to have a backup arrangement. It can be either grid energy or a generator to take over the load.
Which solar energy system is right for you?
When considering a new solar system, one of the first things to consider is the type of system. You can choose an off-grid or grid-connected one.
While an off-grid system is a standalone one, a grid-connected solar system is linked to the utility grid. An off-grid system generates all the power needed, storing the excess in a battery for later use.
In the grid-connected system, the net-metering arrangement allows you to export excess solar energy produced by solar panels on sunny days and earn credits. When the system is not generating electricity, it allows you to draw power from the grid. In this arrangement, you can eliminate the need for a battery in the setup.
If a net-metering arrangement is possible in your location, a grid-connected system is a cost-effective choice. Moreover, you are assured of a round-the-clock power supply, even if the sun doesn’t come out for days at a stretch.
How to install solar grow lights?
Once the solar panel system is in place, all you need to do is hook up the grow light to it.
Solar panels can be self-installed or you can take the help of a professional installer for it. You need to have basic knowledge of electrical connections to manage this by yourself. While installing solar panels, you also need to pay attention to various details. If you are unsure, it is better to take help from a professional.
While fixing grow lights, you should ensure that the lights can be moved vertically to suit the plant’s growth levels and light needs. Suspending the lights using a pulley system is the most popular practice among indoor farmers.
A timer is another useful addition to solar grow lights. It will ensure that the plants are getting just the right amount of light. Neither too much nor too less.
When choosing the battery for the setup, go in for a deep-cycle one, as it will help you avoid damaging the grow light with over-discharge. A solar inverter is another vital factor in the setup to convert DC to AC.
Indoor farmers can take advantage of technological advancements to raise the bar for their indoor farms. As solar power systems are becoming more affordable, this is the right time to adopt them. Incentives make decision-making all the simpler.
As this involves a high upfront investment, you should invest time in figuring out your demand and choose the system accordingly. The system will pay for itself in a few years and will continue to save substantial amounts on your energy bills for a long time to come.
Indoor cultivation offers many benefits but the high energy consumption is the only blot that can mar the perfect picture. With solar power systems in place, you can overcome this drawback as well.
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