In A Brand New Light
Cool, efficient plasma lighting technology comes online
By David Downs
The earliest adopters of what’s being dubbed “plasma lighting” say their buds are growing big, fast and, most importantly, healthy under the next generation technology.
Ten years after light emitting diodes (LEDs) received a chilly reception among growers, it appears as if another, new technology promises to replace the sun without running up the electricity bill.
Erik Biksa, head of indoor cultivation for garden supply magazine Rosebud says a test plasma rig he has is likely the beginning of a specialty market for well-funded super-professional experts and cash-heavy dilettantes who simply want the latest and greatest. Not only is it quiet, cool, efficient and powerful, plasma offers a real chance to replace the sun, he says.
Lighting has come a long way. Clandestine indoor cannabis cultivation arose as a response to law enforcement, but indoor growing uses tons of energy and wastes much of it. According to estimates by Dr. Evan Mills, a climate change expert and energy analyst employed by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, University of California—indoor grows consume a full one percent of all electricity generated in the U.S. The energy is valued at $5 billion dollars annually, Mills states.
Mills also finds that “cost-effective efficiency improvements of 75 percent are conceivable [in the industry],” and could add up to $3.75 billion dollars in savings for growers. Efficiencies come at a good time, because as historic marijuana prohibition recedes, so do the prices propped up by the laws.
More and more supplies of medical marijuana are hitting the market each year, forcing prices down. As the price promises to plummet further, growers are suddenly looking at a dollar saved as a dollar earned, says Biksa. And plasma promises savings at just the right time.
While sodium halide lamps burn similar to the filament in a household light bulb, plasma lighting is generated by bombarding a gas-filled ampoule the size of a breath mint with radio frequency waves. The RF waves excite sulfuric gas inside the ampoule, and the gas enters a state of plasma that throws off high-intensity light.
Bottom line: plasma provides the same brightness as a sodium halide, using half the wattage. It’s also much, much cooler, which makes it safer, and enables a huge, 30 percent savings on air conditioning, says Biksa.
Chris Pieser—who runs the Chameleon brand of plasma lighting out of Florida, and is one of only two plasma providers in the country—says the light is also much more “nutritious” for plants than sodium halide. Plasma creates a broader spectrum of wavelengths that better matches the plant’s needs. “We’re calling it full spectrum light nutrition,” Pieser says.
In videos published by one out-of-state collective, plasma-grown medical cannabis finished sooner, yielded 11 percent more by weight and looked healthier than the sodium halide, they reported. Pieser sampled the end result and says while it was only slightly more potent, it tasted more full-bodied and rounded.
Even though plasma lights last nine times as long as sodium halide they cost $2,000 up front, which will put off many novices. They also weigh 40 pounds, requiring a sturdy light rack.
“I look at this as aesthetics,” Biksa says. “I would want it to be as close to the sun as possible and just the way it looks to me, I’m going to have the best looking plants in the bag and in the garden using this light.”
Room to Grow
Even as plasma lighting emerges as the potential next generation of grow technology, let’s not forget the fact that LED lighting is something many turn to for their indoor cultivation needs. One pro is that LED is superior to incandescent light; an average LED grow light will last about 35,000 to 50,000 hours while incandescents will last you 1,000 to 2,000 hours, with fluorescents lasting about 30,000 hours, according to eHow.