In the region discussed in this article, I grew up with two uncles with greenhouses. One had 5 acres (about 2 hectares) of greenhouses and the other had much less but he was probably Canada’s first organic farmer. But, even then, I remember how energy-intensive (oil heating) the activity was, particularly when growing vegetables in Canada’s winter. Growing in a greenhouse is expensive and not very environmentally friendly. It is encouraging to see that researchers are coming up with new, more appropriate technologies as explained in a news item on the CBC website.
Creating greener greenhouses through solar energy
Researchers at the University of Windsor have teamed up with local greenhouses to work on improving energy efficiency and reducing operating costs.
Rupp Carriveau, director of the UWindsor Environmental Energy Institute said the focus is on energy from the sun.
“There was a push for a while to see if we can try to reduce the environmental footprint for some of the fuels that normally dominate the greenhouse landscape,” said Carriveau. “It’s not as simple as wanting to rule out natural gas.”
Because the “fuel is free” Carriveau said solar is the best thing to consider, but because greenhouses have extended their growing days by adding lights to their production, there needs to be a way to save the energy in batteries.
“We’re harvesting solar-sourced electricity, solar-sourced heat,” said Carriveau. “We have thermal and electrical storage. It’s quite a comprehensive system.”
Right now the research is a combination of lab and field work, at greenhouses including Rising Sun Acres in Leamington. The project has received almost $100,000 from the Greenhouse Renewable Energy Technologies Research and Development Initiative.
“We’re putting the final touches on our model. We spent a ton of time developing the energy demand characterization and the electricity side of it,” said Carriveau. “We will be moving to a small pilot.”
Carriveau said the advantage to solar over wind power is the more broad availability of the resource.
“The greenhouse sector is expanding rapidly which is great for the area. It’s difficult for the electricity and gas grids to keep up with that expansion,” said Carriveau. “For these facilities to have on site generation and storage it creates flexibility for those grids, which is relief for those grids too.”