In the US, Marijuana growers turn to energy efficiency

Energy costs can represent 20 to 40% of the final product’s cost. [Shutterstock]

To face the collapse of cannabis prices, American producers are turning to energy efficiency as a way of cutting down costs and remaining competitive. EURACTIV’s partner le Journal de l’environnement reports.

The recent partial legalisation of marijuana production in the US has definitely been a game-changer. Forty US states currently authorise marijuana production for recreational or medical use, and about sixty million Americans are, more or less regularly, getting high.

Environmentally-speaking, marijuana cultivation is mostly occuring in greenhouses. To produce strongly-dosed cannabis, producers have to ensure strict temperature and hygrometric conditions. Most often, there is a need for strong UV lamps and air conditioners, two veritable energy wasters according to leading industry publication Utility Dive.

500 producers around Denver alone

According to a report by cannabis analyst group New Frontier Data, hundreds of authorised producers consumed over a million megawatt-hours of electricity in 2017, compared to approximately 3 million expected to be consumed in 2022. Illegal producers consumed three times more energy than their official counterparts across the country, but not in regions where cannabis production was strong.

In Denver (Colorado), greenhouse cannabis growers consumed close to 4% of the local energy, which represents the city’s internet consumption. Between 2011 and 2016, in the state of Colorado, the demand for energy from its 500 cannabis producers multiplied by 8.

Securely supplying energy to some regions is not the only problem caused by cannabis’ exponential growth.

In 2017, heating and air conditioning of ‘legal’ greenhouses emitted 500,000 tons of carbon per year. New Frontier Data estimates that this number could even triple by 2020, and when taking into account illegal production, the carbon footprint of American ‘dope’ could be flirting with figures close to 5 million tons of CO2 per year. That is not great.

Saving energy, a European challenge of varying scale

Several EU member states, including France, have chosen to implement laws that would allow the trading of energy saving certificates, an important shift towards saving energy.

Collapse in prices

Fortunately, the economy takes care of things. With increased competition, prices on the marijuana market have collapsed. In Colorado, again, a pound of cannabis was sold for $750 (€445) in 2017, compared to $500 (€296) by the end of 2018. In 2019, prices are expected to go as low as $300 (€178).

To stay competitive, producers now have to tighten their bolts, particularly regarding their energy costs, as these can represent 20 to 40% of the final product’s cost.

Some institutions, such as Energy Trust in Oregon are starting to finance LED-based lighting and heating systems, which are a lot less energy intensive than sodium vapour growth lamps.

If you do not want the planet to die, maybe it is time to stop getting high.

Uruguay begins exporting medical marijuana, Germany is first EU client

Already the first country in the world to legalize recreational use of marijuana, Uruguay now aims to go further by becoming the first in Latin America to export it for medicinal purposes.

[Edited by Frédéric Simon]

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