BuildingEnergy 16 Full ConferenceConference Planning CommitteeMember

The Cannabis Cultivation Conundrum at BuildingEnergy Boston

by Stephan Wollenburg

Feb 21, 2017

Fred Davis and Stephan Wollenburg discuss the Cannabis Cultivation Conundrum

Stephan Wollenburg (SW): When did you first start thinking about the energy impacts of cannabis cultivation? What caught your attention?

Fred Davis (FD): Alarm bells started going off for me in July 2014 when I met solar leader Johnny Weiss at the Oregon Country Fair. He had recently heard that legal marijuana production in California, then medicinal only, was responsible for 2% of all of that state's electricity consumption. I was incredulous; that's an unbelievable amount of power! A 2012 study by my old colleague Evan Mills calculated the California number as 3%. And as states, including Massachusetts, legalize the use of recreational cannabis, these numbers will surely climb.

SW: Two or three percent seem like small amounts, why the alarm?

FD: Why this is terrifying: even states that are most successful implementing energy efficiency, such as Massachusetts, are bringing electricity use down at a rate of around 2-3% per year. To reach long-term climate targets, that still isn't enough. This brand-new, high-energy-consuming industry has the potential to overwhelm these reductions, setting states back years in their energy efficiency efforts.

SW: Why is BuildingEnergy Boston the right place for this discussion?

FD: BuildingEnergy Boston is a place where people are willing to have a discussion that questions conventional wisdom. Most conferences would see this as a technical problem: can’t we just install LEDs? What about greenhouses? Certainly, this session will get into those details that discussion. But we'll also be asking the bigger question. I have no expertise in agronomy, but I do think it's nuts that a crop like marijuana is grown indoors at all. It is called weed. The sun is a 100% efficient source, providing high levels of light. Ultimately, normalization should mean that outdoor growing could be both ecologically and financially sustainable.

SW: Why is this topic important now?

FD: This transition is happening, and we in the energy efficiency field need to engage.

Continue this discussion with Fred Davis, John Morris, and Ian Gordon during the Cannabis Cultivation Conundrum session at 10:30am on Wednesday 3/8. For other mind-expanding content, check out “The Systems View: How the Energy Blockchain will Unlock the Next Industrial Revolution,” “Net Zero Water: Not a Dry Topic,” and other sessions you’ll only find at BuildingEnergy Boston. Register today.

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Stephan Wollenburg is an independent consultant focusing on renewable energy procurement and demand response markets. Before going solo, he worked at the Cape Light Compact and Mass Energy Consumer Alliance. Stephan received extra credit in a college class for attending his first BuildingEnergy, though he insists he attended because he was a true believer. Either way, he was hooked. Some find his love of numbers (especially spreadsheets!) somewhat off-putting, but tolerate it because he uses it for good. When not talking energy or crunching numbers, Stephan can be found running,...

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