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Ask Erik: RAW! - Alternative Grow Lighting: Bunk or Bright?

The right lighting will get you bigger yields, and save you money on electric bills. The right lighting will get you bigger yields, and save you money on electric bills.

Q:

I hear LOTS of different things about sources of grow lighting that are alternatives to my energy hungry and heat blasting HPS (high pressure lighting) set-ups. In some growing threads, I see beautiful results with LEDs (light emitting diode) and even more recently the new generation LEPs (light emitting plasma). Other times, I see terrible results. The results are just as wide reaching when I talk with different growers. Most noticeably, the widest differences in the results seem to be with the LED grow lights - from “total crap” to “da bomb!”

Another thing that you can factor in is an improvement in crop quality, especially essential oil production, when it comes to improved lighting frequencies that are created by some of the newer high-tech alternative grow lights.

Can you explain why the differences would be so broad, and are these grow lighting alternatives just hype and a waste of time and money? I am a serious grower who is willing to invest, however, only if I can rely on this gear making my life easier or making my wallet a little thicker.

A:

A lot of the answer will have to do with how patient you are in making your wallet thicker. With the right technologies, you can save significant money on electricity for crop lighting, cooling, and even lamp replacement costs. As well, you might find some happiness in knowing that you are helping to support technologies that can help save wear and tear on our environment too. However, you are going to have to layout more cash initially to do so.

One of the big reasons you hear such varying results, especially with LEDs, is that the technology is not standardized like HPS or MH lighting technologies are. Since these types of lamps and ballasts have been around for many decades, there aren’t huge differences from one to the next, although there can be improvements, as is the case with digital ballasts and horticultural HID lamps.

When you get different combinations and intensities of diodes with different drivers combined from the various LED grow light manufacturers out there, what you are really getting is a lot of variables! If you find one that appears to be working for a fellow grower, take note of the brand name and model. Then do some searches and poking around to see if you find similar results with other growers using the same set-up.

LEPs appear to be a little more standardized and consistent than LED grow lights, although there are still some differences from one manufacturer to the next. Personally, I can say that the technology looks to be very promising in delivering intense, full spectrum grow lighting while still keeping electricity and lamp replacement costs lower than HPS set-ups.

However, as with any new technology, high quality alternative grow lighting costs a lot more than garden-variety HID lighting. This is where your patience can pay off, and as a serious grower, by now you should have learned the virtues of patience. Over the course of a year or two (depending on your electricity and typical HPS lamp replacement costs), the savings you get due to lower power consumption and no lamp replacement begins to pay back more than the three to five times additional expense you had to pay to get your hands on the right alternative grow lighting gear.

Another thing that you can factor in is an improvement in crop quality, especially essential oil production, when it comes to improved lighting frequencies that are created by some of the newer high-tech alternative grow lights. HPS lighting, while bright, tends to stress plants. And stressed plants are more prone to problems.

So, further weighing in is the potential for fewer growing problems like insects and diseases in your plants that not only hurt crop quality and yield, but that also rack up additional expense and time treating problems.

Like most things in life, you get what you pay for. However, before dropping some big bucks, do your research carefully. Consider trying one or two fixtures first before switching everything over. As the old adage goes, “look before you leap.”

Cheers, Erik Biksa

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Plasma grow lighting plant trials compared against HPS.
Last modified on Thursday, 23 August 2012 15:31

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