Energy is a major factor in modern agriculture. As we moved away from the plow and hoe and into the world of tractors, irrigation systems and eventually lighting and HVACs, we've improved yield quantities, gained the ability to bypass climate limitations and arguably improved the quality of our crops. But all this has come at a price - massive amounts of energy are poured into these operations in order to maintain optimal conditions for our precious plants.
In the past decades farming has turned hi-tech. The industry has been completely transformed to accommodate a growing population through technological advancements and more precise agriculture techniques.
This shift is hitting a new turning point. We are witnessing a change in global mindset, to an efficiency minded culture. Technologies and techniques today are being re-thought and fine-tuned to reduce resources spent and increase efficiency.
The current state of energy
Energy is invested in every single process in modern agriculture. It's what runs irrigation systems and field plowing outdoors, lighting, screens and heating in greenhouses and HVAC systems and fans in in-door grow operations. The problem is that energy efficiency hasn't always been on the mind of designers, manufacturers or farmers and this drives energy consumption to be much greater than necessary. With fluctuating energy prices and global concern over greenhouse gas emissions, this problem is growing and gaining much more attention.
One example, albeit a big one, of this inefficiency is in air acclimation. This is the most basic concept of indoor growing.
Greenhouses generally use large-scale heating systems to create the optimal temperature for the crops, but heating a closed space containing plants inevitably creates high levels of humidity, a problem which needs to be dealt with. Traditionally, humidity build-up is maintained through ventilation. This creates a huge inefficiency, as great amounts of energy are poured into the air in the form of heat, only to be literally thrown out the window for the sake of humidity reduction. Once the air inside reaches the desired relative humidity level, it is colder than desired and needs re-heating. This is repeated daily, creating a big problem for an industry which is now shining a spotlight on energy consumption.
Dehumidification for energy efficiency
The best way to combat energy waste is to utilize systems designed to efficiently tackle specific tasks, as well as integrating systems intelligently, in a manner that creates the right synergy between technologies. This trend is especially present in humidity reduction, thanks to the growing awareness of the effects of relative humidity on the wellbeing of plants, as well as the direct and indirect costs which accompany traditional methods.
Dedicated dehumidification systems are a great way to reduce energy consumption. Though additional machinery intuitively feels like it would increase energy consumption, with dehumidifiers, the opposite is true.
The specific details differ between growing spaces, but the basic concept remains the same - dehumidification allows the grower to further close and insulate the space. Instead of using ventilation to remove excess water vapor (humidity), it is possible to keep things closed and dehumidify the air from within. This allows the heating or cooling systems to run much less often, saving large amounts of energy, as well as money and greenhouse gases, according to energy prices and production methods in the area. The separation of temperature control and humidity control can actually cut energy consumption by as much as 50%.
Integrating efficiency with extra benefits
The agritech industry is hard at work creating more efficient solutions but also new and innovative ways to reap additional benefits. This is the mindset of agriculture specific dehumidification developers- DryGair. Introducing a dehumidifier to a growing space presents an opportunity, and the correct design can assist in much more than just fulfilling the system's basic purpose. In addition to energetically efficient refrigerant based dehumidification, these systems offer integrated heating and cooling systems to aid in air acclimation as a much-welcomed side effect.
Additional benefits include air circulation that creates uniformity in air quality, reducing the creation of microclimates, pockets of humid or cold air, an often-overlooked aspect of a grow operation's well-being. Reducing air transferal with the outside also allows for CO2 to be kept within the system, reducing the need for CO2 injections common among European vegetable growers. Another side effect of DryGair's system is the collection of water, the most basic and necessary resource for any type of agriculture, one which is also experiencing an escalation in pricing in many parts of the world.
Progress, use less
Mindset is shifting globally as the climate changes and energy regimes change. Agriculture, being one of the most basic and necessary industries, is bound to shift with it. Regulations restricting energy and water consumption are on the rise and there may soon come a day when being as efficient as possible will be necessary in order to remain in business.
It is critical to see resource management as an asset and introducing dehumidification is a perfect first step.
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