Can you actually explain what makes LEDs so special?

LEDs are improving vertical farming like never before

Last week, the three scientists who invented blue light emitting diodes received the Nobel Prize.  It was certainly well deserved, as this was nothing short of a revolution for lighting.  image

That revolution began with their invention 20 years ago and has brought us the newest in efficient light emitting diode (LED) lighting.  These lights are so efficient that they have taken vertical farming from the pages of eco-utopian manifestos to tangible reality.

Navigant Research modeled a 63% adoption rate of LED lights for retrofitting projects by 2021.  The numbers speak for themselves.

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This is the first of a two-part piece that will explain what LEDs are in a way that anyone can understand.  First, I’m going to look at what ‘efficiency’ means for LEDs, and the implications of increased efficiency. Then, in part two, I want to show you the companies breaking new ground on the vertical farming applications of LEDs right now.  Click to the next page and let’s get started.

11 thoughts on “Can you actually explain what makes LEDs so special?

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  8. There is no doubt that LEDs are the future, but are they the present?

    No. Not at all.

    You will save yourself around 20 watts for the same square foot coverage. Sounds great, doesn’t it? Unfortunately it will take 50 hours to reach a single kWh (that is at 12 hours a day, which is quite common for leafy greens).

    Here comes the tricky part: How much are you paying for your kWh? The higher the cost of your electricity, the more sense it will make to get LEDs, but let’s say the standard price in the US is 10 cents (In Spain I get them for 0.06€).

    Every 4 days you will save yourself 10 cents in electricity. Every 40 days you’ll save yourself an entire dollar.

    How much does a 4-foot fluorescent tube cost? Around 1 dollar getting them in bulk from the manufacturer (which all vertical farms should obviously do). The cheapest 4-foot LEDs you can find will be 100 bucks.

    How long will it take to get that initial cost back due to your energy savings? Those extra 99 dollars, saving 1 dollar every 40 days means … 99 times 40 days … 3,960, over 10 years.

    Yes, you’ll also have to get reflectors for your fluorescents – 99.85% reflective anodized aluminum cost less than 4 euros each, and will last decades providing proper maintenance. Those 4 euros won’t be a problem either.

    As for HVAC costs: LEDs and fluorescent tubes aren’t any different in heat (BTU) production. The reason LEDs are usually said to “emit less heat” is simply because less watts run through them. Of course 35 watts will emit less heat than 54w, but again, looking at how much it will cost to cool your growing area (each watt will mean 3.41 BTU of heat) it would take many, many years to get back the money you invested in your LEDs. The exact numbers are difficult to get, since it depends on your climate and the temperature you want your grow room to be at, but summing up, saving yourself 68 BTU per 4-foot luminaire isn’t going to offset those extra 99 bucks you paid for your LED (and that’s going with the cheapest available)

    Sorry for the rant but the numbers still don’t work out. Let’s talk again in 2020, when I’m sure LEDs will be cheap enough to finally kick fluorescents out of vertical farms forever.

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