Solar’s popularity among agribusinesses is no longer confined to the more traditional ones. As the marijuana industry continues to expand across the country, many growers are making the decision to go solar.

In the past, when marijuana was completely a black market commodity, growers were forced to use banks of solar panels and battery backups to avoid detection of their operation. Utilities would notice large spikes in electricity usage and send the data to police for investigation. Avoiding arrest was the primary motivation for marijuana growers to go solar.

Today, 23 states have legalized marijuana for medicinal use, and most allow for its cultivation. Nationwide, the taxed marijuana market is worth $1.5 billion, according to a November 2013 report from ArcView Market Research. Because of the plant’s widespread cultivation across the country, the massive consumption of electricity by the high-intensity lights used poses a new problem for local utilities.

In Michigan, an electrical engineer (who wishes to remain anonymous) decided to join the medical marijuana market. Shortly after he began cultivating several dozen marijuana plants indoors, the local utility contacted him and expressed concern about his high electricity usage. That prompted him to reach out to NovoFuel to look into renewable energy options.

NovoFuel, a wholly owned subsidiary of AlumiFuel Power Corporation (OTCPK: AFPW), designed the Michigan marijuana grow operation to generate 10 kW of electricity from wind turbines and 12 kW from 44 solar panels. This system will provide half of the operation’s electrical energy needs. The energy backup comes from an 18.6 kW lithium ion battery.

SystemDesign

David Cade, President and CEO of NovoFuel, notes, “The battery is the most important player in the whole system by serving as an electricity backup, buffer and embedded network management controller.” He adds that he and his team at NovoFuel “are making excellent progress in moving this program from the design stage to the implementation stage. We are confident that our novel RES solutions will prove to be very attractive for these cultivation operations.”

Cade sees exponential growth in the renewable energy market for marijuana growers across the country. He estimates that over 60% of indoor marijuana farms grow between 12 and 48 plants — a cultivation size large enough that the associated grow lights will create problems for local utilities. The solution to these electricity supply problems is solar and wind energy, says Cade.

Sunmodule PV panels for Michigan grow operation
Sunmodule PV panels for Michigan grow operation

The same ArcView report estimates the national marijuana market will grow over six-fold in the next five years. The vast majority of the plants will be cultivated indoors to control pests, temperature, and theft — meaning all will require a great deal of lighting and electricity usage. If Cade’s estimates are correct, the marijuana boom could be a significant driver for the growth of the solar industry.