The appeal of LED (light-emitting diode) indoor growing lamps has always been to reduce energy costs. An indoor grow set-up with only four cannabis plants can suck as much electricity as 29 refrigerators, according to a recent study published by the Northwest Power and Conservation Council. But what if innovations in lighting technology could offer cannabis cultivators more than just energy savings?
Heliospectra (OTCQB: HLSPY, FIRSTNORTH: HELIO), a Swedish-based lighting technology company, has created an LED fixture that allows growers to create customized lighting spectrum recipes that may be able to shorten a cannabis plant’s flowering cycle and even alter a strain’s balance of active cannabinoids. The lamp’s lighting spectrum can be controlled from an online-based software, where growers can choose to enhance exposure to certain wavelengths at different periods throughout the growing cycle. And its manufacturers claim that this is possible while simultaneously cutting electricity costs in half.
While growing outdoors would be the ideal energy saver, it’s reasonable to expect cannabis production to remain indoors for the near future. The industry is in its nascent phase of commercialization and growers want to maintain control over the plant’s temperature, lighting, atmosphere and flowering cycle. There can also be a mismatch between cities and counties where cannabis production is legal and outdoor conditions where the plants would thrive.
The answer in the interim appears to come in the form of LED growing lamps and according to Heliospectra General Manager Chris Walker, the company has surpassed its competitors in terms of creating a commercial product that cuts electricity costs, while maintaining the yields that cultivators have grown accustomed to under high-pressure sodium bulbs.
“We’ve built an actual commercial product,” Walker said. “Other LED companies are building more boutique products. They are good lamps but the name of the game is intensity of light and actually being able to drive that light into the canopy.”
According to Walker, the company’s competitive advantage lies not only in its precision environmental control, but in its lamps’ total light output, measured via photon count in the PAR spectrum. A recent report released by Jacob Nelson and Bruce Bugbee illustrated that Heliospectra LX60 has a photosynthetic photon flux (PPF) of over 1.7 micromoles per joule, while the the majority of LED fixtures on the market have a PPF of less than 1.3 micromoles per joule. And the energy savings are substantial, at least according to Spotted Owl Organics, a Seattle-based cultivation facility that uses Heliospectra lamps.
“Electricity to operate the lights has been reduced by 60 percent from the old technology (HPS) we were using before,” said Spotted Owl owner Doreen Bormar. “Cooling costs are significantly reduced as well because the lamps don’t generate as much heat.”
Heliospectra is focused on promoting the reduced electricity costs to cannabis cultivators—but savvy growers are a step ahead, attempting to understand how this level of precision control could actually change the future of indoor cultivation.
Pink House Blooms, a Denver-based cannabis cultivator, is experimenting with Heliospectra’s LX60 grow lamp to emulate outdoor growing conditions closer to the equator, where CBD-rich strains of cannabis originated. By manipulating the light spectrum to match certain geographical solar patterns, owner Elliot Klug and his horticultural team hope to breed medical strains with reduced THC and higher CBD.
“Most shops are bound to what growers are breeding. There is no technology that allows us to balance THC and CBD,” said Ryan Wankel, cultivation manager at Pink House Blooms. “If these [Heliospectra] lights allow us to lower the THC and still bring out the CBD, that’s going to be the greatest thing.”
Klug and his team report that they have harvested equal or greater yields under the LX60, when compared to yields under the high-pressure sodium lamps they have used in the past. But perhaps more importantly, they have also managed to reduce the flowering cycle of their plants by manipulating exposure to certain wavelengths of light.
According to Wankel, “dabbling” with the far-red spectrum of light causes a cannabis plant to start metabolizing earlier, shortening its life cycle and allowing for a quicker harvest. The lights are easily connected to Wi-Fi so growers can adjust this light spectrum with a few clicks on a computer.
Klug and his team noted that their plants began budding two weeks into the flowering cycle under the Heliospectra lamps, in comparison to the full four weeks a plant would normally require to bloom under a high-pressure sodium bulb. Over time, this reduced flowering cycle could lead to substantial cost savings. Pink House Blooms is still primarily relying on high-pressure sodium lamps to keep up with their dispensary and wholesale demand, but they would consider retrofitting their facility if the trials continue to go well.
Heliospectra has been getting quite a bit of attention from growers and investors alike for its commitment to the American medicinal cannabis industry. The company went public in July of 2014 and plans to use its new-found capital to support its network of growers in the United States—hiring installation and technical growing teams to improve sales and enhance service for its customers.
“I would say that there is probably a year and a half to two years of convincing the market that HPS is the wrong way,” Walker said. “Grower mentality is the big hurdle. Everyone wants to replace high-pressure sodium lamps but no one has built an appropriate product to do that until now.”