Los Angeles City Council Votes To Ban Medical Marijuana Dispensaries

As states like Colorado decriminalize marijuana use for personal consumption and several states move forward with medical use legislation, the subsequent explosion of indoor grow operations has gotten utilities’ attention. There is a concern the energy-intensive “indoor agriculture” could put sustained stress on power grids.

“This is just a staggering amount of electricity,” says Bruce Bugbee, a professor of crop physiology at Utah State University. – MIT Technology Review

Xcel Energy, one of Colorado’s biggest utilities, is already sending representatives into marijuana growing facilities, taking stock of their energy use, and developing a rebate program to encourage growers to switch to more energy-efficient technologies.” – MIT Technology Review

“…Growing marijuana already consumes huge amounts of energy. The warehouses commonly used to raise the plants in large quantities use about as much energy per square meter as a high-end data center. One-third of the energy used in growing operations comes from the lighting; the rest is devoted to ventilation, heating, dehumidification, and air conditioning. Altogether, the practice accounts for $6 billion of electricity usage in the United States, according to Evan Mills, a researcher at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, who published the estimate in the journal Energy Policy in 2012 (see “Startup Clamps Down on Energy Theft”).” – MIT Technology Review

Interestingly, there is a whole field of energy efficiency emerging that’s devoted to reducing marijuana cultivation’s energy intensive nature through the use of LEDs and other alternative lighting systems. According to the MIT Technology Review, some long-time growers are now choosing outdoor greenhouses as less expensive growing options.

It would be interesting to see the degree to which solar installations are used to power growing operations, but reliable data is likely difficult to obtain. This will be an interesting space to watch as legalization efforts spread.