Shaping the Future of Indoor Agriculture
March 19, 2020
IAES Conference Recap
BY MADDIE SLIGH and BRIAN BOOHER
The D+R team had an amazing time co-hosting the inaugural Indoor Agriculture Energy Solutions Conference (IAES Conference) with the Resource Innovation Institute (RII). Held February 24-26, 2020 in La Jolla, CA, the IAES Conference brought together experts from across the industry to shape the future of energy policy for indoor agriculture. The unique mix of participants – including utilities, growers and cultivators, policymakers, manufacturers, researchers, and engineers – created an exciting dynamic, facilitated new connections, and revealed important insights about energy policy and best practices for the industry. Here are some of our big take-aways.
A major theme was the need for effective and realistic codes in controlled environment agriculture, and the need for usable data to set these baselines. Indoor grow facilities can be extremely energy-intense, but the current precedent is that these buildings are exempt from existing codes. Code officials are weighing this carrot and/or stick challenge in the upcoming 2021-2022 code cycle. When it comes to federal policy, policymakers are watching how states are navigating energy use in the market.
Another key issue was the need for additional data to determine the varying environmental needs for different plant varietals. Unsurprisingly, a one size fits all approach to building grow facilities is not possible when growers need to optimize a grow formula. These facilities are dynamic, and changing one component of the system can have ripple effects throughout the facility. There is a need for general guidance on horticultural practices as well as regulation to prevent inefficient grow operations. Building effective and efficient indoor grow facilities requires strong communication between building designers and plant scientists to create facilities that optimize plant growth while operating efficiently.
We also heard from utilities about the opportunities and challenges that they face as indoor agriculture becomes more prevalent in their service territories. On the one hand, indoor agriculture provides a solution to falling electricity demand; but utilities are also concerned about managing load and extending service to new facilities. The utilities in attendance were eager to engage with growers in their territories to shape utility program design so it benefits all sides.
Finally, it was great to see the innovative solutions that equipment manufacturers have developed to meet these challenges. Manufacturers at the conference exhibited their newest lighting and HVAC technologies and learned about their customers’ needs. Manufacturers are continuously innovating to make indoor cultivation more efficient, but it was clear that there is also a need for baseline standards to encourage better adoption of efficient technology.
With climate change pushing the movement of indoor agriculture, innovative solutions need to be adopted that accelerate an energy efficient and low-carbon future for controlled environment agriculture. Ultimately, more data is needed to make informed decisions for the future of indoor agriculture. We were excited to be a part of the continuing discussion.