Things we are looking at in 2018
2018 is set up to be an exciting and dynamic year for Horticultural lighting. While it appears that the market is poised to continue its extreme growth in 2018, there will be several key topics that could have an impact in 2018. Jared Saunders and I had a brief discussion on what we think could be the six largest influencers in this market.
a. Jared: this is still a relatively new way of using LEDs in horticultural lighting, but is showing promise. I am very optimistic about this and really keeping a close eye on the research. Some studies are already showing how it can increase yield and decrease tip burn in some cases studies I also think it could be a great stepping stone for those growers who are skeptical about using LED, or are unable to front the cost of a total switch Even converting 15 to 20% of the indoor lighting to interlighting has shown productivity improvement.
b. Philip: I agree that interlighting is interesting and could have an impact on the adoption of LED products. That being said, I still think top-lighting will have a much larger impact on the industry overall and interlighting might only play a secondary role. The biggest questions I have with interlighting, is whether or not the benefits in production outweigh the costs and if the general grower will be willing to accept another layer of complexity in the lighting system.
2. Micromoles (PPF):
a. Jared: This is one of the key metrics I look for since it is a gauge of how much useful light is actually being emitted by the fixture and how efficient it is produced. The PPF of several LED fixture makers is close but not yet consistently on par with Double Ended high pressure sodium lamps (DE HPS). In 2018, I am expecting the PPF to get much closer, but not yet on par with DE HPS.
b. Philip: I agree that PPF is important, just like lumens is in general illumination and I also agree that this metric will improve in 2018. However, I really view PPFD (not the photons being produced by the fixture (PPF), but the usable photons hitting the plant canopy) as being much more important. PPF from LED doesn’t have to be on par (pun intended) with DE HPS since LED fixtures can be installed much closer to the canopy of the plant, increasing the PPFD without increasing the overall PPF of the fixture. I would expect that more companies will actually start providing the PPFD readings of their products under different installation conditions. This to me can only help the industry as it removes some of the ambiguity of the industry.
3. Smart (Connected) lighting:
a. Jared: In today’s world, IoT is everywhere, and the horticulture lighting market is no exception. Seeing how smart lighting is used and advanced this year will be very telling of how quickly it will start penetrating this market. I don’t think it will take over much of the market in 2018, but it should be a very decisive year for whether IoT will take over the horticultural lighting market. I expect it to grow and be tested more throughout the year, but not realize its full potential.
b. Philip: To me, this is a little bit of a “crawl before you run” situation. Advancements in connected technologies like sensors are happening really quickly, but I agree that 2018 will probably not be a break out year for their usage in horticultural lighting applications. From our research, we’ve already seen that the penetration of LED is miniscule and is not expected to explode in 2018. IoT for horticulture just adds another layer of complexity and cost for growers, and there are still a lot of questions on what the real benefit of these products will be. By all means, an extremely interesting market, but I believe its true impact will not be felt in 2018.
4. Vertical farms:
a. Jared: The success of this market will depend heavily on #2 in this list. Vertical farms present a space efficient method of indoor growing, multiplying the grow area by several times. However, without the sun, the lighting is very costly. This could very well be the future of agriculture if LEDs become much more bright and efficient.
b. Philip: The true test for vertical farms will come if there is a proven business case for this kind of production. I do believe there are specific niche applications and locations where these production facilities can thrive. However, I also believe there will be a great deal of trial and error with these businesses as they try to find these niches and prove true value to end users.
a. Jared: With the rescinding of the Cole Memo, Attorney General Jeff Sessions is giving the federal prosecutors the ability to prosecute for Marijuana. I believe that the prosecutors will most likely only prosecute if it is a blatant offense or violating the original Cole Memo rules. This announcement will still slow down the short-term growth of Cannabis, but not affect the long-term growth.
b. Philip: Agreed. I think cannabis production is here to stay. States have generated too much revenue and it is clear that the population in general is in favor of legalization. I have heard from several horticultural lighting manufacturers that the industry is keeping an eye on things but is not pessimistic. If you think about it, we are dealing with and industry that has been dealing in a gray area for a long time and while this may be a bump in the road, it is not the end.
6. Full Spectrum vs. Partial Spectrum Lighting:
a. Jared: This is an area that is still being researched. Until recently, it was thought that there was one perfect spectrum, or one light that was better for all plants. After more study, it was found that this is not the case. We know now that each plant needs a different spectrum. I see this continuing forward in two ways. One is LED lights giving off a more full spectrum, the other is using a color-changing LED that can adjust to whatever spectrum is needed for a particular plant or stage of growth. The first would be a simpler option, as it would provide all light needed for most plants. The color changing light would be more efficient, because it would waste less light, but it would have to be set for each plant and give sufficient amounts of the spectrum for each plant.
b. Philip: In the early days of LED horticulture lighting, there was a prevalence of partial (think pink) lighting. The thought was that since plants mostly need red and blue light to grow, we can just provide these spectrums for them. That being said, research has shown and the industry as a whole is realizing that plants still need other wavelengths of light and thrive with a more complete spectrum. Additionally full spectrum products should work better for multiple varieties of crops and make for an easier working environment (People matter too). It is my belief that in 2018, we will see the release of more “full spectrum” than “partial spectrum” lighting products, and I believe this trend should continue in the future as well. Tunable spectrum is a whole other ballgame, which does have its benefits in that you can tailor the light to specific plants, their growth cycle, the region and time of year. However, like with IoT, this adds a whole other layer of complexity to the system that might be difficult for growers to accept in the immediate future.
These are just 6 things that Strategies Unlimited will be watching out for and our predictions of what will happen in 2018. For more information on these topics, check out the Horticultural Lighting Report and our Horticultural Lighting Conference.