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George Mekhtarian, California Lightworks

Improving cannabis grow results while lowering costs and carbon footprint

“The cannabis industry pollutes more than the coal industry. Technology can help address many of our environmental issues. When I started the company twelve years ago, I knew there had to be a better solution for grow lights,” says George Mekhtarian, CEO of California Lightworks. “By bringing the latest in lighting and controls technology to the grower, we have been able to make cultivating cannabis simpler, more sustainable and more productive. In essence, we help cannabis cultivators improve their bottom line while improving their carbon footprint through the use of technology.”

George Mekhtarian  

High environmental impact
According to Mekhtarian, lighting is typically one of the biggest upfront costs of new operations. “Lighting also consumes the most power in an indoor or lit greenhouse grow operation so it tends to be one of the highest ongoing costs of production. In addition, to the extent that growers use outdated, inefficient HID type lights, you have the high environmental impact of extra power usage and the landfill pollution of the regularly replaced bulbs.”

California Lightworks’ products help address this challenge in two ways. “First, by delivering up to 3.5 µMoles/J efficacy growers can cut their electricity usage by 50% or more, reducing ongoing cost and minimizing their carbon footprint. Second, our MegaDrive® LED lighting solution reduces upfront installation cost by 80% and fixture cost by up to 30% by removing all power electronics from fixtures and centralizing them in a 10Kw power pack. In summary, our lighting solutions lower upfront and operating cost while delivering excellent grow results for growers.”

Converting non-believers
When they started the company 12 years ago, they started pitching LED lighting solutions to growers. “However, nobody believed LEDs would work. Many small growers had used HPS or MH lamps for decades and did not believe in any other technology. Since then, we witnessed the cannabis industry in North America grow rapidly and evolve into a much more professional industry. So, demand for lighting in general and advanced, high-efficiency lighting grew tremendously. Today almost half the market has switched to LEDs. We’re working on converting the other half.”

Mekhtarian explains that there are a couple of other trends driving demand for LEDs specifically in the cannabis industry. “One is the move to multi-level indoor grow operations.  Licenses limiting indoor grows to a specific square footage is driving many growers to consider multi-level grows in order to maximize canopy size and yield. In a multi-level grow where the light has to be pretty close to the top of the plants, HPS/MH are not an option.”

The other trend is cannabis cultivation in greenhouses. “A greenhouse offers many of the benefits of Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA) enjoyed by indoor growers but with the added benefit of using direct sunlight. In addition, greenhouses tend to be located in rural areas where land is less expensive. So, your overall cost per pound of cannabis produced in a greenhouse is significantly lower. The challenge in a greenhouse is that even in sunny California, yield drops by half in the winter months as recently witnessed by one of our large customers, Wave Rider Nursery in Salinas, California. So, in order to compete in the market, most greenhouse operations are adding supplemental lighting to get consistent indoor quality yield year-round. This is driving up demand for LED greenhouse supplemental lights that can be precisely controlled for intensity and spectrum to deliver consistent Day Light Integral (DLI) and yield any time of the year.”

Constant innovation
So what is it that makes California Lightworks’ products unique? “What differentiates our products overall is constant innovation. I worked as an engineer in Silicon Valley prior to starting California Lightworks. Continuous, fast paced innovation in the Valley was the only way to survive,” says Mekhtarian.

“Our latest innovation is the MegaDrive lighting system. This is a unique, patented solution that removes all power electronics from fixtures and centralizes them in a 10Kw power pack.

This novel approach to lighting reduces upfront installation cost by 80% and fixture cost by up to 30%. In a typical acre size greenhouse, the MegaDrive reduces the number of power outlets needed from 2000 down to 66. The MegaDrive can be connected directly to 3 phase 480V power and allows for precise photoperiod, spectrum and intensity control of the fixtures from a central location. The result is superior quality cannabis at lower upfront and operating cost.”

A recent case study with Grow Ohio tested the benefits of California Lightworks’ new MegaDrive LEDs. They divided an indoor room of amongst four leading LED companies to do a clear side-by-side comparison for every aspect of the yield. “Across all aspects—from yield, to flower size to overall quality—California Lightworks’ LEDs were the clear standout; out-performing every other company.”

“The MegaDrive also allows for a simple sleek fixture design since there are no power electronics in the fixture,” Mekhtarian adds. “This means less shadow effect in a greenhouse environment and no additional driver related heat in a multi-level grow setup. Our new MegaDrive Vertical lights measure less than 1” in height allowing for them to be mounted very close to the bottom of a shelf, maximizing the vertical grow space.”

Technology as a sustainable solution
“The cannabis industry pollutes more than the coal industry. That’s something that doesn’t have to be true, but it unfortunately is. I believe that the cannabis industry has been put in a precarious position because of a lack of sound governance,” he adds. “For example, due to the lack of regulation, over 2/3 of the cannabis supply in our home State of California is grown on the black market. As you can imagine the underground growers are short term focused and are not looking to minimize their carbon footprint nor the negative environmental impact of their operation.

“Technology can help address many of our environmental issues. But the government needs to do its part to encourage adoption of these technologies. One of the bigger hurdles at the federal level is access to banking and finance. Transitioning from HID to LED requires a large upfront investment but has a payback period of 12-18 months. In any other industry this capex decision would be a no-brainer. But U.S. federal laws prohibit banks from financing LED fixtures for a cannabis company, delaying this transition.”

“Our LED lights are a win-win-win for cultivators, consumers and our planet. Sustainability is a passion of mine. California Lightworks has already helped reduce 465,813 metric tons of carbon emissions,” Mekhtarian adds.

For more information:
California Lightworks