Accurate weather forecasts: the linchpin of durable greenhouses
Greenhouses consume a lot of energy. That’s the downside of wrapping up the Mediterranean climate in small glass houses and placing them in colder areas. However, the positives do outweigh the negatives, as greenhouse horticulture gives people the chance to buy locally, while still having lots of different fruits, vegetables, plants, and flowers to choose from. So, the question is not whether we should restrict energy usage in the horticultural sector; the question is how we can make it more efficient. A great part of the solution lies in balancing the artificial climate in greenhouses with real, outside weather conditions. But how can you count on something as unpredictable as the weather?
The energy debate flares up
We all know that too much energy consumption is bad for the environment. The amount of green energy suppliers are increasing, but the highest percentage of our energy still comes from fossil fuels such as natural gas and coal. Now that the greenhouse horticulture sector is expanding, climate debates flare up.
Should we stop the rise of the greenhouse? Or should we in fact welcome it and allow it to replace the air transport of plants and vegetables? In an ideal world, greenhouses would benefit from natural sunlight and ventilation, which puts no pressure on the environment whatsoever and provides some extra photosynthesis to help the crops grow. But, this isn’t easy, because if natural sunlight and wind can reach the crops inside, the highly needed CO2 and bees can escape. Not to mention the rain and hail that might damage the crops. At the same time, growers are dealing with legislation too. By 2030, all greenhouses should be zero-energy (NZE), meaning they need to take action now.
Why pay for warmth when sunlight is for free?
The real weather
So much for the scaremongering, there’s good news too. Many growers have found clever ways to reduce energy consumption without compromising the quality of their crops. Their biggest trump is the real weather outside. When it gets too hot in the greenhouses, they simply open the vents to lower the temperature. It also works the other way around, as natural sunlight can help raise the temperature when needed. And why pay for warmth when sunlight is free? In order to use real sunlight and air flow to stabilize the inside temperature , growers work with greenhouses that are equipped with dynamic roof vents. The vents can change position, meaning growers can (slightly) open the vents when it’s sunny and close them in case of hail and wind shears. The great thing is, that this can be automated depending on weather forecasts. This not only saves growers time, but also helps them to stabilize greenhouse climates and CO2 levels more efficiently. With this method, everybody wins.
If only we could predict the weather
We still have one major problem to tackle, as the weather is very difficult to predict. Although weather forecasts help growers to make an estimation of the weather today and tomorrow, in reality, the weather does as it pleases. Weather conditions can change in the blink of an eye, turning a perfectly blue sky into a thunderstorm. Free weather apps are okay if you don’t want your hair to get messed up, but in the case of greenhouses these estimates are not enough. An unpredicted hail storm can ruin plants within minutes, which is also the time needed to close the vents. Additionally, even if you knew rain was coming, often drizzle is so light that it’s overlooked by the radar, meaning the rain can still catch growers by surprise.
How to outsmart the weather
The obvious solution to the problems mentioned is to provide growers with a higher accuracy of weather forecasts. This includes hyperlocal weather forecasts, to avoid missing local drizzle that wouldn’t have been spotted by a free weather app. This can be done by deploying radiation forecasts and detailed radar data that are constantly updating the forecast models to predict short-term weather. Secondly, growers need a smart integration solution that uses these forecast models for automated decision-making. Together, these solutions help growers to predict what’s coming and to act accordingly. This is exactly what we’ve been working on with one of our Dutch partners, who builds software solutions for horticulture and uses our weather expertise to provide customers with smart automation services. This collaboration forms a linchpin that paves the way for durable greenhouses, reduced energy consumption and healthy crops: a triple win situation we’re proud of.
Do you want to learn more about the way we work on smarter climate management in greenhouses? Then download our case study below for free: