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Energy Use and Savings in Greenhouses and Growth Chambers

Energy use sign on greenhouseThe 146 greenhouses and 125 plant growth chambers managed by Cornell AES host 300-400 research projects year-round. Plant growth facilities provide the controlled environments needed for innovative research, but they can also be very energy intensive and expensive to light, heat and cool.

To sustain agriculture, in the face of a changing climate, we must continue to maintain a strong capacity to support agricultural and natural systems teaching and research.  We also must focus on maximizing our efficient use of scarce resources.

Cornell AES is on a mission to cut energy consumption by improving facilities, upgrading lighting and environmental controls, developing a new generation of energy efficient growth chambers, and by working with researchers and educators to maintain optimal growing environments while eliminating unnecessary energy consumption.

As part of this overall effort, we strive to raise awareness by publicizing the cost for heating and lighting of each greenhouse and growth chamber. Check out the energy use signs at each door. We encourage all faculty, staff and students who use the plant growth facilities to join us in our efforts!

Calculating The Energy Use

Energy consumption varies for each greenhouse and growth chamber, depending on size, construction, controls, lighting and more. It also depends on how each facility is used: different crops and project goals naturally require different conditions.

We measured the energy consumption of each plant growth chambers over a 24 hour period, while set to average conditions: the lights were set to the highest setting for 14 hours and off for the remaining time. The daytime temperature was set to 75°F, and to 65°F at night. 

To estimate the energy consumption and cost for each greenhouse house as accurately as possible, we made the following assumptions:

Energy consumption data for heating are estimates based on measured heating requirements of several Cornell AES greenhouses over four years, and assume an average indoor temperature of 70°F. Lighting energy consumption data assume the installed growth lights provide a 14 hour photoperiod throughout the year, but are turned off during periods of high sunlight intensity, resulting in an annual average of 11 hours actual operation per day.

Carbon dioxide emission data are specific to Cornell’s mix of energy sources, dominated by the central combined heat and power plant. The central plant produces both electricity and steam for heating, which are distributed across the Ithaca campus, including the Cornell AES greenhouses. The most recent emissions figures are 91 pounds of CO2 per 1,000 pounds of steam delivered, and 0.90 pounds of CO2 per kWh of electricity delivered. Because of Cornell's commitment to sustainability and the progress made in producing and obtaining lower-emission energy, these figures are significantly lower than New York State or national averages.