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Peak Hours and Solar Power: Energy-Saving Tips For Indoor Gardeners

Solar power can help you save money in your grow room and help the planet at the same time. Solar power can help you save money in your grow room and help the planet at the same time.

There is no lack of reasons why we should strive to save as much energy as possible, ranging from selfish (to save money) to altruistic (there needs to be enough to go around), but the end recommendation is the same: use as little energy as possible to lessen your carbon footprint.

As indoor growers, our responsibility to save energy is even larger because we use so much of it to replicate the sun (that sucker is bright!). Our electricity costs are often incredibly high; in 2010, the average cost of electricity in the US was 11.6 cents per kilowatt hour (kWh) and the amount is double in some states, like Hawaii. That adds up when you have lights and fans running 18 hours a day. So, to save energy and be green all at once, check out our tips for conserving energy in the garden.

1.) Schedule Your Light Cycles Thoughtfully

In most markets, utility companies have what they call "peak" and "off-peak" hours, and they charge very different rates for each of the two periods. Typically peak hours are considered the ones in the middle of the workday, between 11AM and 6PM, but they can vary depending on the market. The power company can charge three or four times as much for power during this time, so you should do everything you can to schedule your dark cycle to coincide with peak hours.

2.) Check Your Wattage

Your plants need a lot of light to grow and flower or fruit properly, but they don't need too much of it. A good rule of thumb that I learned from some grower somewhere is this: allow 100 watts of light for the first plant you are growing, then 50 watts for each additional plant. This formula would provide an average garden of 12 small or medium-sized plants at least 650 watts, and most growers will round up to the nearest bulb size, which would be either one 1000-watt light or two 600- or 400-watt lights.

Don't go crazy and fill a small grow space with 1000 watt lights as tightly as you can fit them. It's unnecessary, wasteful, and will heat up your space too quickly, not to mention that it's expensive to buy that many hoods, ballasts and bulbs.

Do invest in high-quality reflective hoods and reflective wall and ceiling material to maximize the light in your space, and keep it all sparkling and clean.

3.) Unplug It

When you are not using something, don't just turn it off, unplug it as well. Anything plugged into a socket drains power, whether it is on or off, so just remember: an empty outlet is an unused outlet. It's that simple.

4.) Hunt For High-Efficiency

When you are shopping for lights, fans, or any other high-drain item like an air conditioner, look for companies who make eco-friendly appliances, and always keep them clean and well-maintained. A properly working appliance, just the same as a car, uses less juice to run.

5.) When All Else Fails, Go Solar

Solar energy has a reputation for being too expensive, unreliable, and taking too long to pay back its investment cost. Perhaps there was a time when these fears were warranted, but nowadays, especially for indoor growers, private solar electricity systems can quickly pay for themselves outright. Growers who choose to finance their systems and can get a low interest rate and small monthly payments will most likely see payback right off the bat.

The average home solar system today costs just under $14,000. For normal households who pay cash for their system it will take eight to ten years for the solar to completely pay for itself. But an indoor grower's power bill can be two or more times higher than their non-growing counterpart's, so for a grower, the payoff can come that much more quickly.

I have known fellow growers to see their solar systems pay off within two years. One installed ground panels on a property where all they had were indoor gardens, and the mid-sized system had paid for itself in less than a year. After that, the solar system has continued to generate most of his power and his profits have skyrocketed.

Of course, solar power generators work really well in some places and less well in others (it's best to have sun -- growers in Seattle won't see a return on their investment nearly as quickly as ones in San Diego or Phoenix), so you will definitely want to do some research on solar power in your area. Also look for companies offering extended warranties on their products and installation; solar power systems are a huge investment and you will want to keep the costs low down the line when you are spending so much at the outset.

Solar systems are still not cheap, but neither is electricity from the power company. Indoor growers pay a hefty sum every month for energy, so spending some green to reduce or eliminate that large monthly payment to the utility company may be worthwhile financially to many of us. And it sure is satisfying. Either way, continue to look for ways to reduce your carbon footprint -- the planet needs you!

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Last modified on Friday, 28 September 2012 12:28

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