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 own 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 the growth phase of your plants while minimizing or eliminating the use of mainline power.
Many crops can be grown indoors, but cannabis and micro greens are considered some of the most profitable crops by farmers. In this guide we will focus on how to choose the best indoor solar powered lighting.
Voted 2016 and 2017 best LED grow light by High Times magazine. This light is able to replace an entire 300-400W HPS/MH system. G8 LED have updated their 2019 light giving it a PPFD of 970 μMol/m2/s at 12”. The light covers an area of 3x2 ft during both vegetative and bloom cycles with a canopy penetration depth of up to 60”. You can add optional 90W red flowering lamps for maximum yield. This light has a power draw of only 140 watts making it a great solar option.
A mix of 320 three and five watt light emitting diodes(LEDs) individually intensified by secondary optical lenses allow this light a max PPFD of 720.25 μMol/m2/s at 36”, making it one of the most intense LEDs on the market. It’s extra large footprint allows you to light a 5x5 ft area and has the power to replace your 1000W HPS/MH system with a power draw of only 630 watts. The remote control included with the light allows you to control light cycles and spectrum giving you convenient access to the controls without jeopardizing fragile crops. This is a professional grade light and requires a large initial investment.
This LED comprised of 90 high intensity five watt diodes is capable of replacing a 300W HPS/MH system. It provides vegetative light coverage of a 2.5x2.5 ft area at a height of 24” and bloom coverage of a 2x2 ft area at a height of 18”. This light is quite powerful delivering 1165 μMol/m2/s at 18”. The light has a power draw of 200w at 120V. The only concern I would have with this light is with running temperature. Five watt diodes run considerably hotter than three watt diodes and you may need to add extra ventilation to prevent heat damaged plants in a small grow room.
This complete digital HPS/MH light system allows you to run both 250w and 400w HPS or MH bulbs. The digital ballast removes the need for multiple ballasts, simplifying your setup. When using 400 watt bulbs the light draws approximately 425w but delivers intense light able to penetrate plant canopies. Highly reflective aluminum insert helps to concentrate light energy. This is a good alternative to LED lighting and will provide powerful lighting for the price.
How to Choose the Best Solar Grow Lights
Around 80% of Americans live in urban areas. As more people collect in large cities looking for work, we must come up with 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 grow ones own food indoors is increasing as our environment and food production needs change. Gone are the days of cheap fossil fuel and careless burning of energy resources. We need solutions and 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, and size 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 additional 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.
This bulbs can be good for smaller grows, house plants, seedlings, or supplementary 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 compared to 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 larger grows or large flowering plants.
This 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 as a way to grow plants in space and induce alertness in astronauts. We are able to control the light spectrum emitted from the LED by altering the material they are made of, enabling creation of light in the photosynthetic spectrum while reducing other wave lengths.
This reduces power needed and heat produced while still exceeding performance of other light systems. Another large benefit of LEDs over more powerful HID bulbs are 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 grow lights are extremely powerful 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 as 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 the flowering of plants. Metal halide(MH) bulbs, with their high spectrum(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 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 the desired growth from their 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 stage of growth requires longer nights compared to 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 grow quality. Look for spectroradiometric data from manufacturers that measures energy in watts per wavelength. Utilizing data will allow you to compare wave lengths 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. 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 the setting of buds/fruit by altering light cycles. A light cycle is simply how much light time and dark time the plant gets daily. When a plant is exposed to light radiation it is able to 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 good for small grows and supplementary light. I suggest using a LED grow lights system as they are 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 differing 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.
You should consider 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, a 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 current, and of course your grow light. Greenhouse LED grow lights can be used to supplement sunshine for needy plants during short and cloudy winter days
Best Solar Powered Grow Lights Reviews
- Simple operation with no veg/bloom switch.
- Internal timer and 8 stage timing function.
- 3 year warranty with 30 day satisfaction guarantee.
- Modest heat generation compared to some HID fixtures.
This 8 band LED grow light is perfect for small spaces and has an increased light density giving you some great crop yields for the modest energy draw of 140w, making this a viable solar grow light and giving you a 50-60% energy savings compared to HID lights of the same intensity. Using an optimized 8 band light spectrum cuts down on unneeded wavelengths which in turn reduces power draw and heat output. This option is best for two plants but can be used on up to four and is able to 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.
A mix of 320 three and five watt diodes deliver a massive 720.25 PPFD at a height of 36”. This allows great penetration of the canopy, supplying the whole plant with the energy it needs. The LEDs are intensified by secondary optical lenses making it an equivalent replacement of a 1000w HPS/MH system. The 12 band light spectrum is fully customizable and can be adapted to vegetative/bloom cycles or even towards the plant genus of your choice. The light has an internal timer which 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 large expendable budget. It is one of the best on the market but comes with a steep initial investment. The manufacturer, Powergrow Systems, also offer a large selection of seeds, fertilizers, and other hydroponic accessories worth checking out (Source).
This light is a good 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 important 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 conveniently connect lights as your operation grows in size. With an operational lifespan of 100,000 hours you shouldn’t have to worry about maintenance for many years.
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 a 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.
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. 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 grow.