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Greenhouse Lighting Design: An Essential Guide

Greenhouse lighting design can have an extraordinary impact on crop yield. In fact, the most important factor for plant growth is light, which makes optimised greenhouse lighting that uses digital technology and intelligent design the perfect partner in achieving what you want for your greenhouse yield. AgriTech has evolved so much over the past few years that it can now help you manage colour spectrum, temperature, seasonal lighting, and so much more – effectively giving your greenhouse all the benefits of sunlight without the risks of pests and weather damage.

However, greenhouse lighting has to be optimised before it can deliver the perfect results. You can’t pop some lighting into the corner and hope for the best, you need to consider factors such as energy saving, shadowing effects, mimicking natural light changes such as sunrise and sunset, and manage timing. These are critical factors that will influence how well your crops respond to your lighting and will help you to refine your greenhouse layout and investment to get the best possible results. Considering that the global growing demand for food cannot be met by traditional farming methods alone, agricultural technology and greenhouses have become essential investments into the planet’s future. 

To transform your greenhouse lighting and yield, consider these nine tips to get you started: 

01: Greenhouse lighting: Energy use efficiency 

Optimising greenhouse climates is challenging. You have to juggle temperature, humidity, CO2, and, of course, light. Electrical lamps have been used to grow plants  for nearly 150 yearswhich means that there’s been plenty of time for technology and process to evolve. And, combined with the growing concerns around climate change and environmental impact, these solutions are once again adapting and changing to provide energy use efficiency in greenhouse lighting. Invest into LED lighting solutions that have been designed with energy saving principles in mind, and then make sure that they are laid out in such a way as to maximise spread with minimal demands on power. You can save some serious money if you blend technology and energy efficient design.

Considering that greenhouse lighting demands quite a bit of power, this is a solid way to cut costs without cutting out quality. LED lighting can cut your energy use by significant percentages and the diodes last longer, so you are spending less time and money on replacement bulbs. LEDs also come with more variety in control so they can be adjusted digitally and manually to different light settings and temperatures. 

02: Greenhouse lighting: Consider the genetic algorithm 

Technology in agriculture has explored multiple areas to find out how best to optimise greenhouse lighting and digital solutions. One area that is remarkable is in optimising plant lighting using genetic algorithms. If you can fully understand the genetic needs of the plants, then you can design the layout of the lamps, their heights, and their wattages perfectly, transforming your crop yields. 

03: Greenhouse lighting: Choose the right spectrum 

Colour light spectrum is instrumental to managing your greenhouse lighting. Plants have evolved under the light of the natural sun, and it has multiple spectra and wavelengths that need to be replicated in the greenhouse environment to ensure they respond and grow perfectly. Supplemental greenhouse lighting is there to provide plants with the light they need to really thrive in a relatively artificial environment. LED lighting is a solid choice here as it can be programmed to adapt to a specific type of growth cycle. Invest into lighting that’s capable of adapting to the growth cycle, to the balance of light, to specific changes in the environment and that can be customised down to the finest detail. Use a spectroradiometer to determine light output across specific wavebands and wavelengths so you can accurately match the plant to spectra and get the best results.  

There are different types of lighting to choose from when juggling the colour spectrum. You can use high pressure sodium fixtures for the late growth plant cycle, these work well with natural sunlight and work well with LED lights in managing optimal greenhouse lighting variants. Another option is ceramic metal halide lighting that can be used as a sun replica in areas where there is no natural light. However, like high pressure sodium lights, they take a while to warm up and cool down so they don’t work well in areas where lights interchange at speed. These lights also work well in conjunction with LED lights as they help to refine light balancing for more difficult greenhouse lighting design scenarios. 

04: Greenhouse lighting: Shadows and Seasons

It’s equally important to manage shadows and seasons when planning your greenhouse lighting. Shadows can be the bane of the greenhouse. They can block or inhibit growth and minimise the impact of your lighting if they’re not managed carefully. Design should be meticulous when it comes to light placements so you can eliminate problem shadows. Seasonal lighting is also important. In winter, there is minimal sunlight which puts pressure on systems to ensure optimal plant growth throughout the cold, dark months. You will need to design your greenhouse lighting to be the perfect replica of summer indoors using the right LED grow lights and positioning. This can be further supported by the use of blackout shades to ensure that the interior of the greenhouse lighting is not influenced by the exterior.

Winter months can be balanced by supplemental lighting that helps the off-season greenhouse maintain high yields. This means that you can manage your crops and plant health as efficiently in an Icelandic winter as you would in an African summer. The right lighting, however, has to be adapted to suit the landscape – and this can be different depending on geography and plant requirement – and it has to use the best possible grow lights to ensure that light can be optimised.  

05: Greenhouse lighting: Functional layouts

Whether you’re managing shadows, minimising the impact of winter, adjusting colour spectrum or introducing new plant varieties, you need to invest in a lighting solution that’s adjustable and flexible. The brass tacks of the installation, as it were. You need a solution that’s flexible enough to move around so you can adapt to changing seasons, plants and shadows, and to ensure that you can always optimise lighting to suit plant needs. By moving the grow lights along customisable rails, you can fine tune your yield and crop health perfectly. This can make a huge difference to your greenhouse so invest in fixtures that make your greenhouse lighting flexible. 

06: Greenhouse lighting: Do the research 

When investing in your greenhouse lighting, do the research. Find out what science backs your short-listed solutions and look at the real-world benefits of those solutions in action. You cannot afford to spend CAPEX on a system that doesn’t deliver consistent results, that isn’t capable of light uniformity, and that isn’t driven by digital.  Focus on solutions that have proven results, and that are designed properly.  You want a system that can use real-time and historical data to help you make decisions that are relevant and improve your yield. Use technology that’s capable of handing you the data on the proverbial silver platter and that helps you to shift plant, system and lighting to achieve the best results with minimum effort and risk. Look to companies that use plant monitoring technology and use software that can help you unpack your greenhouse model and design and refine your layouts until they are ideally suited to your growth strategy. 

07: Greenhouse lighting: The surrounding area

Shading is not just created by the interior lighting; it can also be affected by the location of the greenhouse itself. If you are building your greenhouse from scratch, analyse the area so you can minimise the effects of shade from trees, hills, or other natural elements. You can bypass some of these issues with interior lighting or the use of blackout blinds, but if you can select an optimal site from the outset, then these are important criteria. You should also consider the glazing that you use for your greenhouse. This is available in different light transmission rates that will directly influence the amount of light in the greenhouse. Select the glazing that is best suited to your crop type and location as this can make a huge difference to your overall greenhouse lighting design. 

08: Greenhouse lighting: We are all individuals

Your environment is unique. While you may have some considerations that are the same as everyone else, you will also have an environment that you’ve designed to your own specifications and requirements. This means that you can’t take a one-size-fits-all approach to your lighting management. You need to look at your greenhouse model from the perspective of what you need to achieve for your business, and then implement a lighting solution that matches this. To carry the crop analogy from field to fork – you need the right recipe for your greenhouse lighting so that everything you use gets the right results.  

09: Greenhouse lighting: The Guide to Light 

You’ve got the greenhouse part done, now it’s time to dig into the lighting. There are so many different types of lights that it can be more than a little daunting to figure out which one best suits your greenhouse and your crop needs. Below is a simple breakdown of some of the most popular grow light types across the categories of light spectrum capability, crop type, performance, and unique capabilities.  

High-Pressure Sodium (HPS) Lights 

Energy Efficiency: HPS grow lights convert only 30% of the energy they use into usable light and they emit a lot of heat as a result. They’re not the most energy efficient solution on the market and can cost the grower over the long term.  

Light Spectrum: HPS grow lights provide the yellows 570-590 (nm), oranges 590-630 (nm), and reds 630-750 (nm) colour spectrum. 

Crop Specialisation: HPS grow lights are best used during the plant’s growth cycle as the light they emit is best suited for flowering and budding. 

Unique Features: HPS grow lights produce intense light and are more efficient than most other types of grow lighting, especially metal halide grow lights, incandescent grow lights or fluorescent grow lights. Growers have traditionally opted for HPS grow lights thanks to their warmth, cost-efficiency, and light spectrum capabilities. 

High-Intensity Discharge (HID) Lights 

Energy Efficiency: HID grow lights include several sub-categories of lighting that include mercury vapour, metal-halide, and HPS. Energy efficiency is determined by the type of light used but, out of all the different types of HID light, HPS is the most energy efficient. 

Light Spectrum: HPS grow lights provide the yellows 570-590 (nm), oranges 590-630 (nm), and reds 630-750 (nm) colour spectrum. Metal halide grow lights offer up a blue light spectrum, and high-pressure mercury vapour lamps primarily emit light in the blue and green spectrum.  

Crop Specialisation: HID grow lights are best used during the plant’s growth cycle as the light they emit is best suited for flowering and budding. 

Unique Features: HID grow lights have been most commonly used by commercial growers and have only recently been overtaken by more energy efficient solutions such as LED grow lights. They are harder to dispose of as they often contain toxic materials that require specialized recycling.  

LED Toplighting 

Energy Efficiency: LED toplights are, by design, more energy efficient than HID grow lights. They provide the grower with significantly more control over energy usage in growth cycles and are much cheaper to run than other types of lighting traditionally used in grow spaces.  

Light Spectrum: LED toplights can harness the full light spectrum.  

Crop Specialisation: LED toplights can be used to stimulate photosynthesis and shorten growth cycles. They are invaluable in managing plant colour, growth, shape, and flavour. 

Unique Features: LED toplights deliver a very high light output with significantly lower heat than traditional solutions which means that growers are given more control over their growth cycles, conditions and spaces.   

LED interlighting 

Energy Efficiency: LED interlights are a relatively new addition to the LED stable and they are designed to produce light that can move through the centre of high-density plants. They share the same energy efficiency capabilities of all LED lighting systems and lead the way in keeping energy costs down.  

Light Spectrum: LED interlighting has been used to ignite photosynthesis, light quality penetration and temperature across different plant types and can be finely tuned to sit within any required light spectrum.  

Crop Specialisation: There is a lot of research into LED interlighting and its efficacy across different plant types. Thanks to its positioning and light intensity, it can be used to great effect to increase growth. 

Unique Features: LED interlighting delivers a very high light output with significantly lower heat than traditional solutions which means that growers are given more control over their growth cycles, conditions, and spaces.   

Work with a trusted partner who can create the right recipe for your environment and who has the latest technology and science at their fingertips, ready to help you shift your yield forwards. Bespoke lighting may sound expensive, but it doesn’t have to be, and the right lighting could see you achieve returns on investment (ROI) that help you grown more for less. 

We can help you transform your greenhouse lighting with the right technology, expertise and science. Contact us on 01332 410601 to speak to one of the team.