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Keep the Power On with a Backup Generator

August 3, 2018

It’s easy to take a constant stream of electricity for granted. Every time we flip a switch or turn on a machine, the power seems to magically flow into our devices. But once in a while that “never-fail” power fails during a brownout or blackout.

Professional cannabis grows are delicate operations. Loss of power for even an hour can prove devastating, since many thousands of invested dollars rely on continuous electricity from a local power plant. This is where backup generators come in.

The importance of backup power

Cannabis plants are finicky about their environment, especially in their vegetative stage. If the light goes out for too long, plants may think it’s time to start flowering—resulting in significantly lower yields. Typically, this isn’t an issue if there’s no power for only a few hours. But if it’s out for a few days, that can spell trouble.

Consider, also, how important electricity is for automated grow operations. If power suddenly fails and doesn’t come back quickly, it could wreak havoc on hydroponic grows that use automated feeding machines or large-scale operations that depend on lighting timers. Fans, humidifiers and thermometer systems will also be useless if they fail at the same time. In addition, your security systems will shut down, making you more vulnerable to burglary.

Backup basics

A backup generator is an emergency power system. Unless the building you bought or leased comes with its own generator, it’s best to invest in a system that provides 10-20 percent of your total power needs. This means you’ll need to do some calculations on your power usage.

Ask yourself: How much power do I need for the veg rooms? For the clones? For HVAC? Once you’ve got these tallied up, figure out a 10-20 percent range that fits within your budget. Better yet, hire an electrical professional to do these calculations for you.

The reason for these lower power requirements is that, although cannabis plants can be fragile, they can be fairly hardy, too. As long as you’re providing just enough light, fresh air, moisture, heat, etc., to prevent shock or premature flowering, you should be good.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, most businesses experience on average only one or two outages per year, with the outages lasting anywhere from one to three hours. You don’t need backup generators to provide power for days on end unless you live in area susceptible to long outages—such as a location with especially harsh winters or a small town with a less-than-reliable central power company.

If you’re unsure of what to expect in regard to outages, contact your local power company and ask them for their outage data.

Factor in additional costs

Although buying a generator may seem clear-cut, there are other costs involved. One of these is hiring a professional electrician to assess your grow operation and your power needs.

Another cost is purchasing and installing a switch, assuming your building doesn’t already have one. The switch is necessary to automatically transfer power from the main grid to your backup generator if an outage occurs. Without this switch, your generator is useless.

A final cost to consider is installing the system that supplies the backup generator. You may need to pay a team of electricians to add new wiring, reroute old wiring, and provide other construction services necessary to put everything in place while adhering to local codes and regulations.

Types of generators

Some types of backup generators include diesel, natural gas, Tesla Battery and solar-powered.

Diesel:

These generators run on the same fuel that powers semi trucks. Home diesel generators are available at retail stores, but they don’t churn out a lot of power. For commercial scale grows, you’ll need an industrial generator, which can cost anywhere from $5,000 to $90,000 depending on the size, power output and overall design quality. Wattage can be as low as 10kW or as high as 400kW.

Diesel generators tend to be noisy and smelly; if you’re trying to conceal your grow from the public, keep this in mind. The amount of diesel to run the generator can be high as well, with some models requiring hundreds of gallons of fuel to run at maximum efficiency. And unless you have a storage area for all that fuel, you may have to transport it from a gas station—which may be impossible if your area is caught in the middle of a power outage.

Trusted name brands for diesel generators include Triton, Kohler, Generac, Briggs & Stratton, Cummins and Siemens.

Natural gas:

These are like diesel generators, except they tend to be quieter and more environmentally friendly. They usually require less maintenance (at least, in regard to cleaning), and the fuel can be cheaper than diesel, depending on your grow’s location. They don’t usually smell as bad as diesel generators, either. The same companies that make diesel generators also manufacture natural gas generators.

Tesla Batteries:

In the past couple of years, Tesla has become a household name. In addition to producing electric cars, Tesla also manufactures giant batteries capable of storing massive amounts of energy. These batteries can act as backup generators, but they can also reduce overall power costs if maintained daily. According to Gizmodo, a grow “with around 50 lights stands to save about $13,500 in electricity costs a year with the use of two Tesla Batteries.”

Tesla Batteries can provide 10kWh of power at $3,500 each. The units are designed to stack, up to nine total connections. For medium- to large-scale grows, one or two batteries may not be enough power to run every light, fan or feeder at 10-20 percent capacity, but stacking multiple batteries may do the trick.

Perhaps one of the greatest advantages to the Tesla Battery is that it doesn’t require fuel. In a sense, it acts as gargantuan capacitor that simply stores electricity already flowing through the building. Because of this, you won’t need to haul gasoline or store tanks of propane on site. Also, Tesla Batteries are silent, and they won’t smell.

Solar:

Like Tesla Batteries, solar-powered generators don’t need hydrocarbon fuels. However, they can be rather pricey, with costs ranging in the tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars, depending on the size of your grow. Despite the costs of the units and installation, solar generators can be used over and over again, unlike the fuel generators that stop churning out power once they burn up all their fuel.

Solar may be inefficient in places lacking sunlight, such as extreme northern latitudes in Alaska during certain months, or areas with a lot of fog or cloud cover. They’re better suited for grows in areas with clear skies and ample sunlight. Because solar panels are difficult to conceal, they may not be optimal for covert grows.

By Randy Robinson

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