July 4, 2023

Can renewable energy be used in vertical farming?

In this blog, we explore the potential of renewable energy sources to power vertical farming systems.

Written by
Andrew Haxton
Listen to this episode below or on your favourite platform.

Can renewable energy be used in vertical farming?

The agricultural industry is one of the largest consumers of natural resources from land to water, contributing significantly to environmental pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. Vertical farming has emerged as part of the solution to these challenges and as well as helping to reduce the impact on our environment, an IGS vertical farm can further enhance its credentials when powered by renewable energy sources.

In this blog, we explore the potential of renewable energy sources to power vertical farming systems.

What is a vertical farm?

Vertical farming is the process of growing plants vertically rather than horizontally along the ground, like in traditional farming. Vertical farms were created to form part of the solution to the global challenges that humanity is currently facing due to an unsustainable food system, such as CO2 emissions from inefficient supply chains, emissions from food miles, and scarcity of water and arable land.

Why is vertical farming critical for a more sustainable future?

One of the major benefits of vertical farms is their reduced land usage. Traditional agriculture practices require a significant amount of land to grow crops, but arable land is becoming scarce as populations continue to grow. By utilising vertical space, vertical farms can produce the same amount of food as an open-field farm, using only a fraction of the land. For example, a 9 m Growth Tower, has a 41m2 footprint and a maximum growing area of 37 m2.

The agricultural industry is also one of the largest consumers of freshwater globally, accounting for the usage of 70% of freshwater sources on earth. Because vertical farms can recycle their water, their use can massively reduce water waste and increase water-use efficiency - an IGS farm uses 98% less water, compared to open field growing methods.

Compared to smart greenhouses our Growth Towers use around 73% less water per kg of lettuce. IGS’ fully automated water and nutrient dosing system is integrated, meaning that the only water leaving the facility is in the crops themselves.  

Vertical farms can also produce crops year-round, regardless of external weather conditions. This can help to reduce the carbon footprint associated with importing food from other regions, helping to improve food security.

Traditional agriculture also relies heavily on pesticides and herbicides to protect crops from pests and diseases. Vertical farms, however, create a controlled environment that removes the need for these chemicals, leading to fewer pollutants in the environment.

At IGS, we have developed a blend of machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI) to smartly control light and minimise energy consumption. The system provides multi-modal control of lighting including spectrum, delivering the light plants need to grow with optimised efficacy, helping vertical farmers to achieve maximum yield with efficient use of energy. Our patented technology features zero flicker lighting, further improving growing conditions for an indoor environment.

IGS’s supplementary lighting system can work alongside our broader vertical farming technology platform to an indoor farm with scale, efficiency and reliability.

There are also many possibilities to use renewable energy sources to further improve energy usage efficiencies.

Can you run vertical farms on renewable energy?

The short answer is yes. There are several ways to integrate renewable energy sources into your vertical farming system. For example, a solar power system can be installed on the site of a vertical farm to generate electricity. This electricity can power the lighting and other required equipment, such as pumps and fans. In addition, solar thermal systems can be used to provide hot water for uses such as cleaning and other purposes.

Wind power can also be used to generate electricity for the farm. Small wind turbines can be installed nearby to generate electricity. However, wind power is less consistent than solar power, so it may need to be supplemented with other energy sources.

In addition to solar and wind power, other renewable energy sources such as biogas, geothermal, and hydroelectric power have the potential to be used to power a vertical farm. However, the feasibility of these sources may depend on the location and availability of these alternative energy sources.

By running your vertical farm on renewable electricity, you can not only reduce greenhouse gas emissions but also provide a consistent energy supply, which is essential for the year-round operation of a vertical farm, ensuring reliable production cycles, maximum productivity, and enhanced resource utilisation.

The Benefits of Co-Location - Biogas

The practice of linking a vertical farm to a renewable energy source is referred to as co-location. This has many benefits for both the vertical farmer and the energy producer. One strong business case involves co-location with a biogas (anaerobic digestion) plants.

This enables the energy producer to direct-wire (private-wire) their energy into a project receiving a greater and fairer price per kWh than selling energy to the grid. It also allows the energy producer to enter into a stable, long-term contract, removing risks associated with market volatility. For the vertical farmer, this gives them access to a long-term, stable energy price.  

Integrating the circular economy can also make a great business case, whereby using food-waste to power a vertical farm.

In short, integrating a renewable source beside your vertical farming project can create a win-win outcome for both the vertical farm operator and energy producer.

Introducing IGS Growth Tower technologies

We are a technology firm that has combined farming and engineering expertise to develop an indoor vertical farming system that provides business advantages while addressing pressing global issues such as food security and sustainability.

IGS takes Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA) further with Total Controlled Environment Agriculture. TCEA allows predictable crop growth in any suitable location, giving complete control over all aspects of the growing environment.  IGS technology produces the ideal 18-hour summer day 365 days a year, resulting in localised, consistent, high-quality harvests. Because our infrastructure is flexible, companies can add Growth Towers without interrupting existing output and can scale easily when the business demands.

At IGS, we use the three dimensions of weather (sun, wind and rain) to create the ideal growing environment. These elements are illumination, ventilation, and fertigation in our Growth Towers. At the heart of IGS' TCEA platform is a mix of cloud software, automation, and mechanisation, as well as multispectral LED lighting, HVAC, and fertigation systems.

Without the use of fungicides, herbicides, or pesticides, our solution creates a growing environment that precisely and reliably provides high yields for a wide range of crops.

Growth Towers can produce a variety of crops, including leafy greens, salads, plants, and root and fruit crops such as seed potatoes, chillies, and strawberry starter plants. Our TCEA platform can also be used in conjunction with traditional farming to reduce emissions and waste in food supply networks.

Using renewable energy sources to power a vertical farm is a promising solution for sustainable agriculture. By reducing the reliance on fossil fuels and decreasing the carbon footprint, renewable energy can help to create a more environmentally friendly and sustainable future for agriculture.

Want to understand how an IGS Growth Tower can work for your business? Watch our webinar, "Running a vertical farm during an energy crisis", or get in touch today.

1 https://www.fao.org/3/i7959e/i7959e.pdf

2 https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2452263520300021

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