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LED or HPS: The Debate Continues

May 24, 2016

When it comes to indoor cannabis cultivation, lighting is everything. Naturally there are thousands of other variables that a cultivator has to consider, such as genetics and nutrients. But without the proper lights and lighting implementation, cultivators will consistently be disappointed with their end product and return on investment.

It is for this very reason that many professional cultivators in the cannabis industry agonize over the smallest detail, down to the last photon, concerning their grow operation. Confounding the issue of lighting for cannabis cultivators is the growing question of whether to use high pressure sodium (HPS) or light-emitting diode (LED) lighting.

For years, HPS lighting has served as the workhorse of the legal (and illegal) cannabis industry, and for good reason. HPS lighting fixtures provide high intensity lighting and decent efficiency.

On the whole, HPS lights are cheaper than LEDs and, when properly implemented, can have similar efficiencies to LED lighting. However, recent revolutions in LED lighting have significantly reduced startup costs and increased efficiency; making it a more viable solution.

So the big question for cannabis cultivators is: Which lighting solution is best cannabis cultivation? LEDs or HPS? To answer that question, we sat down with Shelly Peterson, Vice President of Light Product Solutions for urban-gro, a company that provides a variety of product solutions to commercial cannabis cultivators.

“LED lighting is great for the vegetative stage, helps root the crop and provides great spectrum and energy savings,” said Peterson. “HPS lighting is great for the flower stage. It provides great intensity and is very efficient for plant growth.”

Although LED holds a lot of promise, cultivators would be remiss to throw out their HPS fixtures just yet. The biggest stumbling block to LED light has been, and continues to be, its cost. “Some [LED] fixtures on the market are more efficient than double-ended HPS, but the ROI does not measure up,” said Peterson. “A viable LED fixture that meets the requirements as a sole light source for the flower stage of a light-intense crop such as cannabis is still 1-2 years away.”

Peterson says that the best way to determine which lighting source you should use is by looking at the efficiency of the lighting fixture (the number of light photons reaching your plant per watt) and the ROI of each fixture. Equally as critical is the placement of the fixtures.

“I cannot stress enough how important it is for people to receive customized light plans from the manufacturer to ensure that the intensity, uniformity and color spectrum are correct for each stage of growth,” Peterson said. “Failing to properly plan installment can lead to can lead to inefficiencies and yield decreases.”

Ultimately, when it comes to cannabis cultivation, the question of LED or HPS is a false dichotomy. Both LED and HPS have their strengths and weaknesses; what matters most is how they are employed. Until LED prices fall and intensity increases, both lighting sources will have a place in the grow operation of the professional cannabis cultivator.

By William Sumner

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