Agriculture Blooms from LED Boom, Powered by 1,000W Driver
Michael Molitch-Hou posted on November 18, 2019 |

LED lights are shining bright in the horticultural sector, where their low cost and high efficiency are making it possible to increase yields from indoor agriculture. As a result, farmers of tomatoes, leafy greens and a wide variety of other produce are relying on LEDs for their urban farms. An entire industry of indoor agriculture is starting to bloom.

To power this growth of greenery, horticulturalists may turn to more powerful LED lights in the 1,000W range. Though there are numerous options for 1,000W lights on the market, there are fewer choices for powering them. One of the few electrical supply options that can enable brighter indoor farms is the MEAN WELL HVGC-1000, a unique driver capable of carrying a 1,000W load while offering some interesting side benefits, such as IoT connectivity and smart dimming.

The Blossoming of LEDs in Horticulture

Indoor farming has traditionally been most common in agricultural centers located in colder regions with shorter summers, extending the growing season through the use of artificial lighting. In the past, high-pressure sodium (HPS) lights were the best choice for indoor farming.

While replacing HPS lighting with LEDs has been attempted in the past, it was difficult to entirely change out the HPS lights due to higher cost and limited availability associated with LED fixtures.

However, solid-state lighting has improved significantly, with farmers learning that thanks to their reduced heat compared to HPS, LED fixtures can be placed closer to crops. Vertical farms have also demonstrated the advantages of LED use for growing plants in locations with limited physical space. In addition, LEDs offer the ability to fine-tune the color spectrum of the lights in order to produce the greatest yield for a given crop.

For example, according to a study from Wageningen University and Research, the use of supplemental LED lighting in tomato greenhouses can increase yield by 11 percent compared to supplemental HPS fixtures.

While the legalization of cannabis in some parts of the U.S. has contributed to an increase in research into indoor agriculture, it’s certainly not the most dominant crop grown using LED lighting, explains Kai Li, product manager for MEAN WELL.

“Tomatoes are number one, and there are a lot of leafy greens, as well,” said Li. “But LED horticultural lighting evolved a lot via marijuana because it is a lot more profitable, so a lot more resources were put into the research and development of LED lighting technology. Now LED horticultural lights have reached a point where it’s much more affordable and a lot more mature. The whole LED grow light industry has benefitted, and is used for many different crops.”

In turn, an entire industry dedicated to indoor agriculture has grown seemingly overnight, with companies like AppHarvest building the world’s largest greenhouse LED installation. At 60 acres, the indoor farm features a $15 million LED lighting system, though it will also use HPS lighting during the winter for warmth in addition to light. In another project, Dutch planter Bryte has also built an 8.3-hectare tomato greenhouse using LED lights.

This niche industry is blossoming for a variety of reasons. Local urban agriculture can help reduce the footprints of large outdoor farms, as well as relieve California’s Central Valley from the logistical pressures associated with shipping fresh produce across the U.S. This means less stress on an already drought-ridden region, and a reduced need for transportation. Indoor farming is also ideal for regions affected by poor or polluted soil and groundwater resources, making it possible to grow produce locally.

Powering Powerful LEDs

Given the size and scope of many indoor agriculture projects, large-scale lighting solutions will be necessary. But even if the size of a greenhouse doesn’t reach 60 acres, larger lights or groups of lights might be preferable, depending on the setup. This means reaching for more powerful lights, such as 1,000W arrays or even multiple arrays that use less energy. However, there aren’t many 1,000W power supplies on the market.

The HVGC-1000 features smart dimming and IoT integration. (Image courtesy of MEAN WELL.)
The HVGC-1000 features smart dimming and IoT integration. (Image courtesy of MEAN WELL.)

One of the few 1,000W drivers available is the HVGC-1000 from MEAN WELL. The only other competitor is actually a 1,200W device, but because greenhouses may be retrofitted for LEDs from popular 1,000W HPS fixtures, 1,200W will be too much power—unless plans are in the works for a complete rewiring of a system. Moreover, the 1,200W driver is also more than twice the size of the HVGC-1000, even though it offers only 20 percent more energy.

According to Kai Li, MEAN WELL didn’t intend to develop a driver specifically for agricultural applications; rather, it just so happened that the device fit well into the LED-driven horticultural boom. This is partly due to the flexibility of the power supply and its ability to interface with IoT auxiliary products.

The HVGC-1000 driver has built-in three-in-one dimming (0 to 10V DC, 10V PWM signal or resistance) with the option to use DALI 2.0 or smart timer dimming. This means that users are able to employ a variety of dimming devices that they may already have, including the digital lighting interface DALI 2.0, which makes it possible to dim, monitor and control the driver. Smart dimming makes it possible to program the dimming behavior of the driver directly, without the use of a computer.

The aforementioned features paired with the driver’s 12V/500mA auxiliary power make it possible to connect dimming controllers and the IoT hardware necessary for smart control and monitoring applications.

“You can have a smart sensor connected to the driver, relying on the auxiliary power,” Li explained. “They’re able to monitor the operating status of the driver and control the driver wirelessly or wired, turn it on and off from a control room and know if the driver is working or functioning. This is important for remote access and monitoring. With an office light, you can walk into the room and see if it’s turned off, but at a large installation location, you can’t walk the entire site every day to see if all of the lights are working. With this, you can tell from the control system that, say, light #7 in row #22 has turned off, so you can prepare maintenance.”

Li also pointed out that wireless dimming might be implemented to reduce the cost of a fixture setup so that users don’t have to run an extra set of electrical cables to the controller. More importantly, dimming can be used to maximize light efficiency. Smart sensors can be used to detect occupancy or daylight so that lights can be configured to turn on automatically and intelligently in the proper conditions.

In this regard, the HVGC-1000 in particular is marketed as exhibiting very high-power conversion efficiency up to 96 percent, meaning that only four percent of the power dissipates as heat. At the same time, the system accepts a wide range of voltage inputs from 180 to 528VAC, with models tailored to different rated currents ranging from 1320mA to 7000mA. This contrasts with other drivers that typically allow only one voltage and current combination that provides maximum power. The HVGC-1000, however, can operate at a lower current or a higher current depending on a customer’s needs, improving energy efficiency overall. 

Beyond Horticultural LED Lighting

If the LED lighting and urban gardening boom continues as predicted, the industry will naturally see larger arrays of LED lights being deployed, which will necessarily mean higher-powered drivers. Because LED lights are now more efficient and often cost-effective than traditional lighting, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the same trend in horticulture carry over to other industries.

Improvements in high-powered LED technology might pollinate fields that require large lights mounted on tall masts, such as at airports, at seaports and in stadiums. The use of smart dimming or IoT devices combined with powerful LED arrays could ultimately allow these locations to intelligently monitor and control fixtures in such a way as to improve overall energy efficiency and reduce costs. In order to make this possible, however, they will need the proper driver and, at the moment, the HVGC-1000 is the one on the market that can provide these capabilities.

To learn more about MEAN WELL HVGC-1000, visit OnlineComponents.com.



OnlineComponents.com has sponsored this post.

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