07 Nov Growing Forward: A Glimpse into the 2022 Cannabis Lighting Market Report and the Bright Green Future
The Industry at a Glance
First published in 2016, the annual “State of the Cannabis Lighting Market” report reveals the extent to which the industry has grown, changed, and flourished in short time. Despite facing serious headwinds—ranging from supply chain shortages to cannabis surpluses, growers have proven resilient through adaptation and optimization.
This article serves not only to highlight the key points of the 2022 report, but also to provide a perspective into long-term trends with a sense of hope–based on the facts. Fluence is keen to the struggles and successes of its Growing Family. Through world-class research, top-notch lighting solutions, and unrivaled service that continues long after installation, Fluence is proud to serve our long-standing partners in addition to the bright green future of our industry.
The 2022 “State of the Cannabis Lighting Market” study was conducted by Readex Research. Participants included North American cannabis cultivators. View the full report HERE, or in Cannabis Business Times’ October issue.
Headwinds of Change
Growers today are experiencing a complex set of interconnected challenges on a global scale. Fluence CEO David Cohen addressed these issues in a recent special report, noting: “Supply chain shortages continue to drive up capital improvement costs, cannabis surplus in the U.S. is forcing retailers to sell their products at deep discounts, and inflation hangs over consumers worldwide. It’s tough out there.”
But growers—like their plants—are tough. By adapting to change, the industry (as a whole) has been strengthened by the storm, while advances in both research and technology have allowed for phenomenal growth each year despite hardships. When the first status report was released in 2016, only 21% of participants used light-emitting diodes (LEDs) in propagation, a measly 17% used LEDs in vegetation, and just 15% in flowering, Fast forward to 2022, and these numbers have skyrocketed to 74, 70, and 71 percent LED usage in each respective stage. Across the board and for a host of reasons, LEDs now account for most lighting fixtures in commercial operations.
The key to success in nature is efficiency. Simply put, maximizing efficiencies are fundamental aspects of survival for organisms and organizations alike. Therefore, dramatic shifts towards LED usage can be understood best by breaking down each efficiency in relation to current outstanding challenges:
The Cost of Cannabis Lighting
Historically, price has been a leading factor influencing lighting purchasing decisions for flowering. That remains true with the 2022 “State of the Cannabis Lighting Market” report, but a new leader edged into the top spot this year. Aligned with the dramatic results reported by growers and researchers experimenting with higher light intensities in this study’s 2021 report, 53% of participants named “light intensity” a top-five factor driving their light purchasing decisions for flowering—up 13 percentage points from last year.
More than half of study participants named “price” (52%) and “light spectrum” (51%) as leading factors in purchasing lights for flowering. “Energy efficiency” (48%) and “must be LED” (43%) rounded out the top five. The popularity of LEDs has increased with decreasing fixture costs and installation concerns. ROI is a major focus of large-scale growers, and LEDs have proven themselves in terms of energy efficiency, higher yields, and lower maintenance costs. It is well known that HPS lights lose roughly 70% of their light output within a decade, produce more heat—leading to more points of failure, and cannot be positioned within plant canopies. All these factors have contributed to “Light Intensity” overtaking “Price” in this year’s report.
Optimizing Growing Space with Vertical Farms
Once upon a time, farming was horizontal in nature and entirely outdoors. In 1973, GE built the first indoor hydroponic farm with artificial lighting and started the “Indoor Revolution.” Early greenhouses and grow rooms used HID and HPS fixtures with short life spans, high heat outputs, and few controls over spectra, PPFD, dimming, or other features (which are now considered essential by most growers). Today, 88 percent of participants cultivate indoors under artificial lighting—up 9 percentage points from 2021. Of these indoor growers, 70 percent use LEDs in all three main stages of plant development.
Growing indoors can lead to unrivaled environmental control, but it also means less space to grow and more costs to install and maintain, considering sunlight is still free. This year’s study highlights median canopy size instead of average, reflecting a middle value of 10,000 square feet of canopy space in the typical facility. One of the leading factors driving up LED popularity is their use in vertical farming, also known as indoor multi-tier lighting racks. Due to the lower heat output of light-emitting diodes compared to defunct HPS lighting, LEDs can double or triple the same cubic footage of space by growing upwards.
As of 2022, vertical farming comprises a significant segment of commercial indoor and greenhouse operations. For instance, 37 percent of participants who use supplemental lighting reported using vertical rack systems for cannabis vegetation—an increase of 6 percentage points since 2017. Furthermore, 26 percent of research participants who cultivate with supplemental lighting uses vertical racks—up 5 percentage points from last year and 13 percentage points from 2017. The largest segment of vertical growers (22%) uses two tiers.
Farmers continue to create and find efficiencies that did not exist even a decade ago. Just as leaves follow light and Fluence follows science, growers everywhere have shown their resilience by following efficiency of space to its highest limits. This trend promises to continue at an increasing pace as technology improves, costs lessen, and 1:1 retrofits become standard.
Energy Efficiencies from LED Usage
For 22% of this year’s participants, “managing energy costs” was their cultivation operation’s single greatest challenge when it comes to lighting. That’s up 7 percentage points from its top-ranked spot last year. “Managing heat load” was named by 15% of participants, compared to 10% in 2021. “Ensuring consistent/even lighting across the crops” (13%), “adjusting light distance to the canopy” (10%) and “lighting’s impact on plant growth (yield, inter nodal spacing, etc.)” (10%) rounded out 2022’s top five greatest lighting-related cultivation challenges.
This year’s study reveals that perceptions about LED benefits correlate with cultivator concerns.
When asked about the top three benefits to using LEDs, 83% of participants specified “energy efficiency.” More than half (55%) named “low heat.” Nearly one-third (31%) cited “dimming” to round out the top three benefits of using LEDs.
Dimmable light intensity was cited as a purchasing factor by 30% of participants. The data indicates that dimming—with regard to controlling light intensity and enhancing lighting flexibility—is becoming more important to growers. Nearly half (47%) of research participants described lighting fixture dimming capabilities as “very important” for their cultivation operation—an increase of 11 percentage points from 2021. Only 8% indicated dimmable capabilities were “not at all important,” down nine percentage points from last year.
Maximizing Cannabis Yield with Advanced Lighting
In any discussion about lighting and cannabis, maximizing yield is a primary goal. Recent research revolving around spectra, light intensities and lighting technologies has intensified interest in where cultivation yields are at and where they’ll soon be.
When examining average yields per square foot across all genetics, two segments held the greatest percentages of research participants: 21% reported achieving “70 grams per square foot or more,” while 20% averaged “50 to 59 grams per square foot.” Average yields of “40 to 49 grams per square foot” accounted for 17% of participants.
As lighting technologies advance and manufacturers respond to growers’ needs, more cultivators are moving beyond top lighting to explore other lighting types to increase yield. More than half (51%) of participants currently using supplemental lighting or considering adding it within the next 12 months expressed interest in exploring at least one alternative lighting type.
In moves closely tied to yields, 30 percent is interested in exploring “side lighting” in addition to top lighting. “Intercanopy” lighting has the attention of nearly one-fourth (23%) of participants. And 19 percent is interested in exploring “subcanopy” fixtures this year.
It’s Time to Make the Switch to LED Lighting
As LED technology has become the standard for cannabis lighting, reservations about LEDs have faded. Among study participants representing non-LED-powered operations, 30% plans to add LEDs for flowering within the next 12 months. Another 30% is considering LEDs for flowering within the coming year.
For growers using non-LED lighting, many obstacles to implementing LEDs or retrofitting facilities are being overcome. New lighting technologies are making 1:1 retrofits a reality, while fixture costs and solid ROI put change within reach. Still, nearly one-third (31%) of commercial indoor and greenhouse growers using non-LED lighting aren’t exploring retrofits.
For those considering a switch to LEDs, factors driving purchasing decisions provide added insights. “Lower power usage” (46%) and “cost of retrofit” (42%) were the two most common purchasing drivers for participants considering retrofits. One-fourth of participants named “ease of installation” as a top driver, while 22% noted “higher intensity.” “Rebates” were a top decision driver for 18% of participants considering LEDS.
“Being led by science means we’re dedicated to delivering technology that improves the interaction between light and life,” Cohen reiterated, “and to helping our cultivation partners drive operational efficiencies at every stage of their grows.”
Tailwinds of Research
The same can be said of plants. Fluence understands the vital role of objective research and is committed to discovering and sharing new information at the intersection of light and life. Indeed, the current state of research has far surpassed our knowledge from 2016. Without signs of slowing down, academic research promises to expand in scope, intensity, and technological application in the years to come.
In the past, cannabis lighting research has revolved primarily around two goals: increasing yield and maximizing cannabinoid and terpene content. For instance, many studies have demonstrated that higher light intensities proportionally produce higher yields (up to a certain threshold), which has made LEDs a popular choice for growers who are pushing micromole levels.
However, cannabinoid levels do not respond in the same way, according to Dr. Youbin Zheng at University of Guelph. So far, researchers have yet to see cannabinoid concentration increase in proportion to yield as light intensity increases. Still, lighting below a certain threshold–roughly 200 micromoles per square meter per second–could reduce the potency of cannabinoids.
LED Grow Light Spectral Quality
Researchers have turned instead to spectral quality–i.e., the “color” of the light or, more specifically, the wavelength of the photons hitting the plant–to increase cannabinoid content. According to Mitch Westmoreland, a Ph.D. candidate and graduate research assistant at Utah State University, plants require light wavelengths from around 400 to 750 nanometers to drive photosynthesis (a range that represents the color spectrum from violet to red). But plants can detect wavelengths above and below that range, too. And while they cannot use light with wave- lengths beyond that range for photosynthesis, they can still capture that light, which could help understanding how we can change the light intensity and spectral quality at strategic points in the lifecycle to optimize yield morphology and chemical quality. One of the more exciting but less proven wavelengths for cannabinoid cultivation is UVB (ultra-violet black light), which is fatal to many lifeforms and may have additional benefits against pests, bacteria, and other microorganisms that are harmful to plants.
One exciting new method to increase both yield and cannabinoid content is with intercanopy lighting. This method involves distributing LEDs among plants instead of just overhead. While this may not necessarily push the limits of a certain cultivars’ chemical content, it could help produce more buds that reach their full potential.
“Generally, with just overhead lighting, you tend to get sort of a gradient along the plant, and cannabinoid concentration tends to be higher at the top, where the flowers are receiving a lot of light, and then it decreases as you move down the plant where the light intensity is significantly lower,” says Mitch Westmoreland, but “with intercanopy lighting, you can uniformly illuminate the entire plant and potentially increase overall light, as well as increasing the uniformity within the plant.”
“We can get the light to where we need it instead of providing all the light from above. We can move some of the light from the top into the canopy, allowing for a much more uniform vertical light distribution,” says Dr. Jason Lanoue, a postdoctoral researcher at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s Harrow Research and Development Centre. Intercanopy lighting is only possible through the use of light-emitting diode (LED) fixtures, since high-pressure sodium (HPS) lights are too hot to position so close to the plants.
Although little research has been published on intercanopy lighting within cannabis, it is an effective method used by cultivators of other plants with tall canopies, such as tomatoes and cucumbers. Some HPS growers have wisely compromised by keeping HPS lights overhead while integrating LED fixtures for intercanopy lighting. This can reduce the capital investment while still achieving a more uniform vertical light distribution. Fluence experts are keen to the individual challenges and goals of each farm in our Growing Family, and intercanopy lighting is just one example of cross-pollination between research and technology from one crop and cultivar to another.
Shedding Light on Our Bright Future
Fluence has been committed to extending our roots both deep and wide to support our Growing Family. While Fluence remains a leader in highest-quality fixtures and cutting-edge research and technology, we pride ourselves foremost on our service and enduring support from vision to harvest and beyond. Regardless of current obstacles, our partners understand that we are with them every step of the way.
At Fluence, the future of the cannabis lighting market is bright green and growing up. LEDs are no longer an arcane secret in the industry, for their potential and results are well attributed. As the body of research continues to increase, improve, and diversify, growers are realizing the true power of knowledge and information. New methods of light distribution and space conservation are changing the game, and Fluence is at the forefront; our wide range of fixtures includes the SPYDR series, which allows for high PPFD cultivation with single or multi-tier racking from veg to bloom. There are many reasons to be excited as we move forward into 2023. The most recent “State of the Cannabis Lighting Market” report lends credence to this optimism.
For more information on retrofitting, rebates, research, and expert guidance, the Fluence Horticultural Services Team has decades of experience and invaluable scientific insights. Visit our website to join our Growing Family of passionate “LEDers” and realize your full potential at the intersection of light and life.