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Energy Use and Savings in Greenhouses

The 164 greenhouses managed by CUAES host 400+ research projects year round. With 177,000 square feet it is the largest noncommercial facility in New York. Greenhouses provide the controlled environment needed for innovative research, but they are 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.

CUAES is on a mission to cut energy consumption by improving facilities, upgrading lighting and environmental controls, and by working with greenhouse 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. Check out the energy use signs at each entrance. We encourage all faculty, staff and students who use the greenhouses to join us in our efforts!

Calculating The Energy Use

Each year the greenhouses use almost 18,000,000 kWh for heating and lighting. This is significantly reduced from previous years due to recent upgrades. Still, the resulting carbon emissions equal those produced by driving around the world 391 times. It would take 2,950 acres of healthy forest to offset that amount of CO2.

Energy consumption varies for each greenhouse depending on size, construction, controls, lighting and more. It also depends on how each greenhouse is used: different crops and project goals naturally require different conditions. To estimate the energy consumption and cost for each house as accurately as possible, we made the following assumptions:

Energy consumption data for heating are estimates based on measured heating requirements of several CUAES 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 CUAES 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.