Alternative types of horticulture have grown exponentially in the past decade, mainly for indoor and urban operations. Because these types of growing operations usually do not have access to natural sunlight, artificial lighting is required. In order to provide plants with sufficient light to properly grow, light fixtures used for horticulture must have exceptionally good lumen output. Traditionally, HIDs, metal halides and T5 high output fluorescents were used for this purpose as they were the only forms of lighting capable of producing the output required, which for most plants is 3000-4000 lumens per square foot.
However in recent years, Light-Emitting Diode (LED) technology has largely supplanted these traditional forms of lighting for indoor agriculture. There are a number of reasons for this, mainly for cost savings but also for the increased performance LED lighting offers. Other than the higher initial investment costs compared to traditional lighting fixtures, there is practically no reason for horticulturalists to choose any other type of lighting technology other than LEDs for their growing operations, especially larger scale indoor farms. In fact, LED lighting is so effective that the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has chosen it for their space growing operations used in deep space missions.
The first and main benefit of LED technology in general is its dramatically lower operating costs compared to traditional lighting. Unlike traditional lighting, LED fixtures are normally sealed and maintenance free for their entire lifespan, requiring no parts of bulb replacement. This saves a considerable amount of labor hours that would be otherwise spent on traditional lighting such as replacing ballasts or bulbs. In addition to this, LED fixtures use a fraction of the electricity that traditional fixtures use, while producing a consistent lumen output throughout their lifespan. This results in considerable energy savings and eliminates the need to supplement the lumen output of traditional lighting as it ages and loses efficiency.
Another benefit of LEDs that grow operations find particularly important is the high quality of the light they produce. The quality of an artificial light is quantified using the Color Rendering Index (CRI), which measures the accuracy of a light in reproducing color on a scale of zero up to 100. LED lighting by its nature produces light with high CRI ratings, normally no less than 80-90 which is very close to natural sunlight (CRI of 100). Since higher CRI lighting more closely replicates natural sunlight, it provides better light for growing plants in an otherwise artificial environment.
Home and Gardening
In addition to hydroponic use, LED lights are exceptionally useful for home and gardening. These lights offer many advantages over conventional lighting fixtures, including higher energy efficiency, lower heat and a dramatically longer service life. All of these characteristics make them a great choice for outdoor and garden applications where the homeowner and gardner would rather spend time working on their landscaping and garden than fussing with older conventional lighting systems.
As mentioned previously, LED lights work great as grow lights for indoor farming and hydroponic applications, due to their efficiency and lumen output. This helps with outdoor gardening for the same reasons, producing adequate lumen output for days where there is less sunshine or unusually dense cloud cover. In addition to this, these lights provide pleasing illumination to the entire area, which is especially important for those who are looking to show off their hard work put into landscaping and gardening around their home.
In addition to their exceptional performance, LED fixtures are also an ideal choice for gardening and landscape lighting due to their practically non-existent maintenance requirements. LED spotlights, floodlights and other outdoor fixtures are weatherproof and impervious to dust, dirt or moisture ingress which can cause normal lights to fail. With a minimum service life of 50,000 hours, LED lighting fixtures are practically maintenance free. Outdoor fixtures also are made with impact resistant metal housings to be able to withstand the occasional brushes with yard and lawn equipment that commonly disables conventional lighting.
The overall benefits of LED grow lighting are:
- Fixtures produce very little heat compared and therefore do not require intensive heat management as would be necessary for gas discharge lamps
- Reduced heat of LED lamps results in a reduction in evapotranspiration, which thereby reduces the frequency of irrigation
- Massive energy savings, sometimes as much as 90% compared to HIDs
- Can be tailored to only the specific wavelengths that can be absorbed by chlorophyll for plants – they do not waste light output on non-useful wavelengths
- Are by far the most efficient way to grow indoor horticulture and hydroponics