North America’s cannabis sector claims to be booming. Since states across the US, as well as Canada, have legalised its sale for recreational use. And tens of thousands of acres of land are pressed into service producing legal marijuana. This is not just in the traditional heartlands of northern California. But all over Kentucky, the Ozarks, and Florida, Oregon and Montana.
In the US, recreational use is permitted in 11 states, Illinois is the latest at the beginning of 2020; CannabisReport.net estimates the regulated market could be worth more than $47bn within five years. However, it says that the sector in the US is hampered by varying levels of regulation. Whereas, the Canadian market continues to be bypassed for the black market by many consumers. Despite this, the industry is flourishing with a double-digit annual growth rate.
The impact legal marijuana cultivation is having on the economy is one thing, its impact on energy providers is an entirely different matter. In 2015, Pacific Power, which supplies the Northwest US, says seven summer blackouts are the result of businesses and individuals growing the crop. Concerns about how much demand growth is placing on energy supplies echoes across states which have legalised it.
Is going off-grid a necessity?
It stands to reason that such operations consume significant amounts of energy. “You’re trying to make an ideal summer day, with abnormal amounts of water to the routing system at the same time,” says Edward Dow of Solar Therapeutics. Earlier this year, the Massachusetts-based cannabis company became one of the first to generate its own power via a 5.5MW microgrid. Power supply, he says, is the biggest issue his business is facing from the outset.
Although his facility was supplied from the grid, it was removed a few years before he moved in. “This is really the biggest hurdle we face,” he explains. “Our options are to either fund our own microgrid or pay the utility billions of dollars and wait two and a half years for the power.” Instead, the company decided to install solar arrays for when the sun is shining. Plus two natural gas combined heat and power units for the rest of the time.
Although the decision is a sustainable one, it didn’t get the support of the utility says, Dow. “We really tried to work with the utility company as best we could, but in the end, the best solution for us was to purchase all our own assets,” he explains. Off-grid is an interesting approach that some energy providers are taking. Arguably it would be more logical for providers to work with cannabis growers. This is particularly because of the strain they put on the grid and the opportunities engaging with the multibillion-dollar industry might present.
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