During this economy-crippling pandemic, Ben Gagnon, Rechargeables partner and president of Sunbeam Energy, has seen major growth in both the greenhouse and solar energy sectors.

“It’s been a big shift. A lot of people now are eating at home. They’re buying more vegetables than they ever have,” Ben said.

According to the fresh produce media platform Fresh Plaza, Canadian vegetable sales increased 2.5% to $1.3 billion in 2020.

A Greenhouse Canada article summed up the last year very well. While growers saw a brief three-week interruption in the spring due to Covid, the lockdown brought higher prices and more consumer demand. Since air freight was reduced because of travel restrictions, less produce was imported from international markets, meaning Canadians were forced to buy local. American produce was also affected since some areas saw reduced production.

All this meant growers’ profits increased, as did demand and energy usage.

The greenhouse industry has traditionally been a large energy consumer. According to a study of Ontario greenhouse energy usage by Posterity Group and Wood, the sector consumed almost 1.4 TWh of electricity in 2018. The study predicted that by 2024, this would increase to 3.9 TWh of electricity. This high rate of energy usage has started affecting the grid in some areas. According to the study, “in areas with high concentration of greenhouses, this peak hour is impacting local transformer stations.”

Another trend both Gagnon and the study noticed has been the increased use of grow lights to help with crop growth. According to the research, this is a fairly new practice. “In the past vegetable greenhouses typically did not use supplemental grow lighting, but this is beginning to change with growers looking to increase production to meet increasing demand.”

Gagnon has seen this first hand.

“There’s an evolution going on with grow lights,” he said. “A lot of people are considering putting grow lights in place. Growers with unlit greenhouses used to shut down around November, clean out, and reboot. In March, they would start producing their next crops. Now, with grow lights, they’re planting and growing right through that period of time.”

Gagnon added that greenhouse sizes are increasing as well.

“A lot of these operators are greenhouse growers putting massive facilities together: 100 or even 150 acres. In the past, if you had 50 acres, you were a big player,” he said.

With grow lights and expansion comes increased energy usage. However, this is a problem with many solutions, one of which is installing a solar energy system.

For greenhouses, three systems types are available:

  • A rooftop system installed on packing houses.
  • Trackers, installed on spare land.
  • Greenhouse Integrated Photovoltaics (GIPV) – a PV system that is built right into the greenhouse roof.

In 2018, the Canadian federal government introduced a tax program meant to help many sectors adopt clean energy. The Accelerated Capital Cost Allowance (ACCA) lets growers write off 100% of any clean energy and manufacturing equipment they purchased in the first year until 2024. This includes solar energy equipment. In the past, growers did receive a clean energy write-off, but at a lesser percentage.

Click here to learn more about the ACCA tax incentive and solar energy solutions custom-made for Ontario greenhouses.