Before marijuana legalization, many indoor growers lacked the time, incentive and resources to use intelligent lighting solutions. With the advent of legal medical and recreational marijuana, growers and their backers are looking to optimize output in an attempt to capture market share. Within this, there also is an effort to solve the marijuana industry’s environmental issues.
Ambitious growers should actively look to reduce energy consumption to save money, while also crafting custom light recipes to enhance specific strains of marijuana. With this in mind, Heliospectra (OTCQB: HLSPY, FIRSTNORTH: HELIO), a designer and manufacturer of intelligent LED lighting solutions, seeks to replace archaic lighting in indoor and greenhouse growing by harnessing its deep knowledge of plant physiology and photosynthesis, as well as unique ways of using modern LED technology.
Intelligent Lighting Meets Medical Marijuana
In 2006, Heliospectra was founded in Sweden to address the lighting needs of greenhouse growers, researchers and agrotech companies. After six years of development in Sweden, the company expanded to the international market, including North America. As marijuana legalization has taken root in the United States, Heliospectra has established an office in San Francisco to serve cultivators who are ready to enhance their grow operations with its cutting-edge LED technology.
In order to have a greater impact on the international market, Heliospectra’s team is made up of global leaders in intelligent lighting technology, international business development and innovative executive governance. With Staffan Hillberg as CEO, the company has received numerous awards for its forward-thinking technology.
This commitment to progress has expanded to crucial areas of study. Heliospectra recently announced Sue Sisley, MD, has joined the company as Director of Medicinal Plant Science. Dr. Sisley’s research focuses on the use of medical marijuana as an effective treatment option for veterans suffering from PTSD.
“We are focused right now on the science of CBD as it relates to the light spectrum and building the right light recipes for growing those strains,” Chris Walker, General Manager of Heliospectra, noted when discussing Dr. Sisley’s role with the company. Her work will complement Heliospectra’s latest investigations and also benefit the vital research required to cultivate medical marijuana strains specific to the needs of veterans.
LED and Electricity
Growing marijuana is an energy-intensive enterprise from lighting and drying to heating and cooling. As governments and power companies have started to realize how much marijuana cultivation can tax power grids, Heliospectra’s advancements in lighting are especially important.
On September 3, 2014, the Northwest Power and Conservation Council released a report that estimated the electrical impact of indoor commercial marijuana production in the state of Washington would create an additional energy load of 80-163 megawatts, which is a significant amount of electricity to heap on a regional system.
The NPCC also reported that while Washington producers expressed interest in switching to energy efficient lighting, they were concerned about the cost of LED lamps. However, the NPCC’s findings also revealed, “LED provided 6% increase in yield, 48% increase in conversion efficiency in lb/kW.”
This data should be enough to encourage growers to switch to intelligent lighting, but Heliospectra is actively proposing that the industry switch from high-pressure sodium lamps to LED lamps. This move is not only for cultivators to be able to better control their growing environments, but also as a means of cutting electricity costs.
“The lamp is probably one of the most entrenched technologies in the grow so changing the lamp is a fairly massive proposition,” Walker said. Many growers are committed to HPS lamps because they already know how it functions within their agricultural equation. “Growers have been using that lamp because the market has been clandestine, indoors, and they have not been able to use the sun,” Walker added.
Change is not easy, and when it comes to lighting, the initial switch from HPS to LED may seem costly, but it is worth it when planning for long-term success. According to Walker, “When a grower shifts to the LED lamp, they reduce their energy consumption by 30-50 percent.” An article in USA Today also noted, “growers could cut their power bills in half simply by switching to high-efficiency LED lights.”
Doreen Bomar, co-owner of Spotted Owl Organics in Seattle, has the operational evidence to back up these claims. Since switching to Heliospectra’s LED lights, Bomar told MJINews, “Electricity to operate the lights has been reduced by 60 percent from the old technology (HPS) we were using before. Cooling costs are significantly reduced as well because the lamps don’t generate as much heat.”
Doreen Bomar, along with co-owner John Esselstrom, began looking into energy-saving solutions for Spotted Owl Organics more than two years ago. Bomar discovered Heliospectra after reading of the company’s pitch at ArcView. After doing extensive research, Bomar and Esselstrom contacted Heliospectra to participate in its beta program for marijuana.
“It has been an incredible two years working with [Heliospectra] and John has been so happy with results from the lamps as well as the flexibility the lights allow. He’s a scientist through and through so the ability to change light spectrums down to the nanometer is something he can talk about for hours,” Bomar said.
Heliospectra’s intelligent lighting allows growers to control their cultivation environments. According to Esselstrom, “No other light gives you the ability manipulate the photo period intensity, spectrum and duration of output like this lamp does. Some lights may have ‘dials’ but this lamp has an interface that gives you the exact parameters of the lamp’s operation including [remotely controlled] temperature of the panel.”
Spotted Owl Organics embodies how growers should actively look to reduce energy consumption to save money. Esselstrom continued, “I am very excited about this lamp and plan to outfit all of my future facilities with it and future models. Even if the ratio has to grow incrementally that is my commitment to alleviating the power load required to produce this plant on a commercial indoor environment level. I would also like to show that we can produce a product above and beyond the traditional light set up.”
Bomar also noted, “The savings go far beyond just electricity savings and actually affect all aspects of the grow. For our new facility, we are able to save on operating costs as well as save on capital costs. The air conditioning system needed for our Heliospectra grow is significantly less expensive than a traditional high-pressure sodium setup requires.”
Preparing for the Future
While several companies manufacture LED lamps for marijuana cultivators, Heliospectra is making efforts to stay ahead of its competition. The company’s efforts for 2015 include continued collaborations with clients, formulating light recipes for specific strains, side-by-side comparisons with lamps by competitors and commissioning white papers by qualified researchers.
Heliospectra’s collaboration with clients is integral to its progress. “We’re in constant discussions with our growers in terms of what they’re discovering,” Walker said. Feedback from clients combined with Heliospectra’s own research is advancing the company’s formulation of light recipes. “We’re actually building light recipes and strain-specific light spectrums that we can then market and show that in fact, this lamp is capable of something that no one else can offer,” Walker added.
To further legitimize its claims, Heliospectra is focused on proving its lamp next to other lamps, and proving its lamp as it relates to issues growers are concerned about, which are typically yield-focused. According to Walker, Heliospectra has a white paper in development at The University of Akron Office of Technology Transfer on Heliospectra’s lamps versus its competitors. The company also has a white paper in development at Quantum 9, a cannabis consulting and technology organization, on Heliospectra’s lamps versus HPS lamps and Heliospectra’s lamps versus its competitors in the LED market.
As legalization is likely to pass in additional states, the need for energy-efficient equipment will increase. If Heliospectra maintains its proactive approach to intelligent lighting solutions, cultivators will soon know what Spotted Owl’s Bomar already knows: “Ultimately, Heliospectra’s LEDs produce quality cannabis. They are good for the environment and they are good for the bottom line.”