Many indoor growers are looking for ways to reduce their costs and environmental impact. I’ve dreamed of using solar power lamps indoors in my solar grow room, and the radical idea of vertical farming excites me.
Solar-powered grow lights allow you to control light cycles, determining and influencing your plants’ growth phase while minimizing or eliminating the use of mainline power.
Many crops can be grown indoors, but cannabis and microgreens are considered some of the most profitable farmers’ crops. In this guide, we will focus on how to choose the best indoor solar-powered lighting.
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Around 80% of Americans live in urban areas. As more people collect in large cities looking for work, we must develop creative solutions for growing food and commodity crops within those cities and surrounding areas.
Vertical farming and container farms are becoming more prevalent, and the desire to expand one’s food indoors is increasing as our environment, and food production needs change. Gone are the days of cheap fossil fuel and reckless burning of energy resources.
We need solutions, and a solar is a viable option. We will be discussing solar grow lights and the variables you should consider before making a purchase.
Energy usage, light spectrum, light intensity, generated heat, solar panel sizes and wattage of your grow will all need to be balanced to achieve success with indoor solar-powered lighting.
With several light options to choose from, we will go over types of lights, what to look for in a light, and other things you should consider purchasing for your solar-powered grow room.
Types of Solar Grower Lights
There are three main categories of light systems you can use for your Indoor solar greenhouse lights.
These bulbs can be useful for smaller grows, house plants, seedlings, or auxiliary light. There are three bulb styles to choose from(T12, T8, and T5). The T denotes tube while the number indicates how many eighths of an inch the tubes’ diameter is.
T12 lights, which are being phased out, generate electricity through electromagnetic induction, a less efficient method than the electronic circuitry In newer model lights.
The main difference between T8 and T5 lights is size. T5 lights are 40 percent smaller but can contain just as much or more light energy than T8 fluorescents. T5 lights are the most expensive option but will give you the best results.
These lights are pretty energy efficient but won’t work for more extensive growing or large flowering plants.
These lights are compact, safe, use less electricity, have a greater light intensity, and generate less heat compared to more traditional lighting options. NASA was a pioneer in LED use to grow plants in space and induce alertness in astronauts.
We can control the light spectrum emitted from the LED by altering the material they are made of, enabling light in the photosynthetic spectrum while reducing other wavelengths.
This reduces the power needed and heat produced while still exceeding the performance of other light systems. Another significant benefit of LEDs over more powerful HID bulbs is the ability to use a varying light spectrum to encourage the growth you want.
LED style lighting would be my first choice for a solar-powered grow. LEDs are an expensive initial investment but will pay themselves off in the long term. With the right expectations and planning, off-grid LED lighting can be possible.
High intensity discharge, or HID
This grows lights are mighty but are expensive to run, hot, and power-hungry. They are great for plants that need high-intensity light to flower and fruit and are best for commercial growers who have a larger budget and aren’t concerned with energy usage.
They come in two varieties that are usually used in conjunction with one another. High-pressure sodium(HPS) bulbs produce low spectrum(red) light used in plants’ flowering. Metal halide(MH) bulbs, with their high range (blue) light, are used for vegetative growth.
Both vegetative and bloom spectrum lighting must be used for the best results. Keep in mind you need to purchase two sets of bulbs and possibly two different ballasts, depending on the model chosen, when using this system.
Vegetative vs Bloom
When growing with indoor grow lamps, farmers must vary light spectrum and day length to get their desired growth plants. The growth before flowering is considered the vegetative stage and is controlled by day length.
For example, with cannabis, lights should be lit for around 18 hours in a more blue spectrum light to encourage vegetative growth. The second phase is considered the bloom phase, where the plant will produce flowers and fruit.
This growth stage requires longer nights than the vegetative stage, usually a 12/12 hour split, with a light geared more toward the red spectrum.
Light from the sun contains the entire spectrum from ultraviolet(UV) to infrared. Plant biologists consider 400nm(red)- 700nm(blue) wavelength light available to plants for photosynthesis. Grow lights that cover this full spectrum will give you the best growing results.
Some light models have an available switch that can set the light to either vegetative or bloom growth. This is a useful feature as it reduces the need for additional lights while improving growth quality.
Look for spectroradiometric data from manufacturers that measures energy in watts per wavelength. Utilizing data will allow you to compare wavelengths of light available to your plants.
Different plants need different light intensities. Even single plants require different intensities during different growth stages. Light intensity given off by grow lights is measured in watts.
A more specific measurement is Photosynthetic photon flux density, or PPFD, measured in μMol/m2/s. This measurement tells you the PAR(photosynthetically available radiation) usable for plant growth, or the number of available light particles hitting a square meter area in one second.
The full sun provides approximately 2000 μMol/m2/s. Intensity can be varied by purchasing a more powerful light or moving the light closer to your plants.
Duration (Light Cycles)
As plants progress through their growing cycle, we can influence biological processes such as the growth rate and buds/fruit setting by altering light cycles. A light cycle is how much light time and dark time the plant gets daily. When a plant is exposed to light radiation, it can chemically convert this energy, along with carbon dioxide and water, into oxygen and glucose.
This energy is stored in the plants and used for cellular respiration. Cellular respiration occurs during dark hours. The plant chemically converts its stored glucose into carbon dioxide, water, and ATP energy molecules used for plant growth and reproduction.
The amount of energy required to grow plants is immense, and you must consider this when choosing which light system to use. Power needs will change as the plants’ progress through their growth cycle, and the farmer starts altering day length and light spectrum.
LED lights will use the least amount of energy, while HID lighting will use the most. Fluorescent lighting is also efficient and can be useful for small grows and supplementary light.
I suggest using a LED grow lights system as energy-efficient and can deliver a great product, saving you money in the long run.
Short vs Long Day Plants
Different varieties of plants have different light needs. Short day plants only produce flowers when day length is less than about 12 hours. These include many spring and fall flowering plants like poinsettias and chrysanthemums.
Long-day plants, on the other hand, require more than 12 hours of sunlight to enter bloom. Summer crops like lettuce, spinach, potatoes, and California poppies bloom when the days are long.
Other plants like tomatoes, corn, cucumbers, and some strawberries are considered day-neutral. These plants form flowers regardless of day length. Keeping day lengths in mind can help you choose crops that use less light, saving energy.
Installation and Additional Purchase Considerations
When installing your new grow lights, you will need a way to hang the lights above your plants. You will also need a way to raise the fixtures as the plant grows in height.
This can be done with a pulley system, or a chain hung from the ceiling, allowing you to hang the light from different chain links as the plant grows.
It would be best if you considered purchasing a timer to control light cycles along with some form of ventilation to keep air moving. For a full solar light setup, you’ll need a solar panel to collect energy from the sun, and an MPPT(maximum power point tracking) controller to optimize amperage to the battery.
A deep cycle battery to store energy and prevent damage from excessive discharge, a power inverter to convert DC to AC, and of course, your grow light. Greenhouse LED grow lights can supplement sunshine for needy plants during short and cloudy winter days.
G8 240 Watt LED Veg/Flower Grow Light
This eight-band LED grow light is perfect for small spaces and has an increased light density giving you some excellent crop yields for the modest energy draw of 140W, making this a viable solar grow light and giving you 50-60% energy savings to HID lights of the same intensity.
Using an optimized eight-band light spectrum cuts down on unneeded wavelengths, reducing power draw and heat output. This option is best for two plants but can be used on up to four and can replace a 300-400W HPS/MH system.
This is a full spectrum light good for both vegetative/flowering stages and covers an area of six square feet. G8 decided not to include a veg/bloom switch on this fixture. Turning off the red diodes in your grow light during the vegetative cycle will reduce active diode density within the light, reducing its power and effectiveness.
The company instead offers specialized red spectrum bloom lights to be used in conjunction with this light. The 90W Red Flower Booster lights will increase flowering size and density when used with the main light during bloom.
- 8 lbs
- 110V @ 1.2 Amp | 220V @ 0.60 Amp
- Max draw 140W
- 6 sq. ft. coverage
- Low power draw
- Simple operation with no veg/bloom switch
- Operational in 110V or 240V modes
- Generates little heat
- 90 day money back guarantee
- May need to purchase 90W Red Flower Booster light set for optimal flower development
- 3W diodes are not as intense as 5W diodes and may have problems penetrating thick canopies
- Fans run a little loud
- Not able to daisy chain
Kind LED K5 Series XL1000 Grow Light
A mix of 320 three and five-watt diodes deliver a massive 720.25 PPFD at the height of 36”. This allows for excellent penetration of the canopy, supplying the whole plant with the energy it needs.
The LEDs are intensified by secondary optical lenses making it equivalent to a 1000w HPS/MH system. The 12 band light spectrum is fully customizable and can be adapted to vegetative/bloom cycles or even towards your choice plant genus.
The light has an internal timer that can be controlled by remote, eliminating additional bulky equipment. The timer also includes a “Mother Earth” function, which mimics outdoor lighting by slowly activating the light in the morning and dimming the light gradually in the evening.
These stages can be customized to your desired duration and light spectrum. The included remote allows you to fiddle with light settings without putting fragile plants at risk of accidental damage. This light is for professional home growers or those with a sizeable expendable budget.
It is one of the best on the market but comes with a steep initial investment. The manufacturer, Power grow Systems, also offer a large selection of seeds, fertilizers, and other hydroponic accessories worth checking out (Source).
- 42 lbs
- 100-240 volt compatible
- Max draw of approximately 630W
- Three year warranty
- Highest available PPFD in market
- Customizable 12 band spectrum
- Internal timer and 8 stage timing function
- Remote controlled
- 5×5 ft grow footprint
- Cool running and quiet
- Requires more powerful solar setup
This light is an excellent entry-level deal for someone looking to start experimenting with indoor growing. The full spectrum light consists of 90 five-watt diodes, and a veg/bloom switch to fine-tune light wavelengths.
This light should have the ability to replace a 300W HID light. UL certification ensures a safe operating unit, which is essential when dealing with lights and flammable material.
The light is also available in 300 and 600-watt versions, depending on your needs. The light supports a 2.5’x2.5’ vegetative growth footprint at 24” and a 2’x2’ flowering footprint at 18”.
The daisy chain feature allows you to connect lights as your operation grows in size conveniently. With an operational lifespan of 100,000 hours, you shouldn’t have to worry about maintenance for many years.
- 8.4 lbs
- 120V @ 1.67 Amp | 220V @ 0.90 Amp
- Max draw approximately 200W
- 3 year warranty
- 3 years warranty with 30 day satisfaction guarantee
- Powerful 5W diodes
- Bloom/Veg switch
- Fire resistant design, UL certified
- Daisy chain compatibility
- 5W diodes run hotter increasing cooling demand
- Powerful fans can waste valuable energy
I have included this Sun Systems grow lights HID fixture as an alternative to the other LED lights recommended. This complete 400W system has a built-in digital ballast that allows you to run the light at 250 or 400 watts, with either HPS or MH bulbs.
This HID light will penetrate the canopy surface, delivering light to lower leaves, improving the energy the plant is able to absorb. Highly reflective aluminum insert concentrates the light where you need it most.
The power-coated steel housing is attractive, durable, and fire-resistant. The light utilizes an E29 mogul base. When purchasing a 400W MH bulb, you must get the BT28(reduced jacket) lamp in order for it to fit. The LEC315 ballast is low frequency and is under the FCC threshold for measurable interference.
- 15.25 lbs
- 400W/120V @3.3 Amp | 250w/120V @ 2.1 Amp
- Max power draw of 425W
- 2 year warranty
- Powerful HID lights
- Can run 250 or 400 watt bulbs
- Digital ballast supports HPS and MH bulbs
- Effectively covers 3’x3’ growing area
- Cheaper than LED options of same intensity
- Modest heat generation compared to some HID fixtures
- Draws more power than LED fixtures
- Must purchase bulbs separately
- Bulbs need replacement after heavy use
- Must have some form of ventilation
The benefits of indoor solar powered grow lighting will become more pronounced as technology prices drop, and our outdoor environment becomes less suitable for crop production. When choosing a solar grow light, you have a few considerations to make.
A solar setup can save money in the long run but is a large initial investment, and you must plan it out accordingly. You can check out outdoor solar lights as well.
We have discussed what makes a solar grow lamp desirable and what to look for in a light. I choose the G8 240W LED grow light for its mix of power and energy efficiency. With a max power draw of 140W, this light is compatible with a smaller solar setup.
Simple, full-spectrum operation with no veg/bloom switch simplifies the growing process while still delivering good results. You are able to purchase specific 90W red flower boosting lights that draw minimal power if flower density is your main priority.
I recommend this light to beginner indoor gardeners looking for a relatively cheap and effective light that can be used on your solar-powered grow grid. Growing plants can be an exciting and profitable venture if planned out correctly.
Use the information in this guide to help you determine what grow light best fits your dream solar growth.