What’s right for your grow: LED or HID lighting?

By Bridget Hill-Zayat, for Elevated Nation

In my last article for Elevated Nation, I briefly discussed the benefits of LED lights for energy cost savings when operating a large grow. From the responses, I received online I can plainly see I hit a proverbial nerve. Some of you are quite fond of your HPS lights. In an effort to present a somewhat more nuanced understanding of the pros and cons of both lights, I sent out a request for growers to weigh in.

I received responses from both growers and light manufacturers, some wishing to stay anonymous and others readily willing to be identified.

The Traditionalist:

Alan Lien – Founder and President of Solis Tek Inc.:

The endless debates between LED and HID can be differentiated by one analogy. LED to HID is like a garden hose to a fire hose. LED’s simply cannot get enough penetration into the canopy of the garden with a 1 to 1 ratio comparison to HID. In theory, LED’s can save money and output the same amount of LUMENS as HID; however, when measuring light for plants, Photosynthetic Photon Flux Density (PPFD) should be used as the unit of measurement whereas lumens are for humans. Lumens are a measure of the amount of total light output that the naked eye can see, whereas PPFD measures the amount of light within a certain Photosynthetically Active Radiation (PAR) region. In laymen’s terms, that means PPFD shows you exactly how much light within the specific color spectrum plants need. LED’s to this day cannot achieve this as efficiently as HID can. LED’s light is more in a linear fashion whereas how reflectors used with spherical HID lamps today throw light more in the masses from different directions to be able to achieve more coverage and penetration down into the canopy creating better quality flowers than what LED’s can produce in a 1 to 1 ratio comparison.

The Practical Environmentalists

Mike CaineIdeal Harvest

Currently, I have been using the Boulder Lamp Industries 315 CDL light. These lights outperform typical 1000 watt HPS lights because they provide maximum amounts of blue and red spectrums as well as all other spectrums for optimum growth. They are also more environmentally friendly and can help decrease energy consumption. With these lights, you can triple your light footprint compared to one 1000-watt light. From a grower’s standpoint, we want to produce the highest yields possible while using the least amount of energy.

We have not fully switched to LED’s yet, as we’re not totally sure that everything is completely dialed in with the technology. We do believe that will change over the next couple of years. Until then, BLI offers a unique CDL + LED hybrid light that uses both technologies. At this point, we feel more comfortable incorporating LED’s with the hybrid because it provides the best of both worlds. Several growers in Colorado who have done side by side tests with the hybrid light have been able to increase their yields by about 15%. If we were to change anything, it would be to incorporate these lights.

Everything takes time, and it will come down to the early adopters who have made the jump already being willing to share the knowledge and analytics which will help benefit the industry that will really take grows and companies to the next level.

The Indifferent Pragmatist

Tom HafflyGrower Consultant

I really only will work with a few companies so far, and the requirements the lights must meet are as follows: 1. Must have spectral controls, and full integration with the environmental controller so that we can control the lighting recipes through one central controller; 2. Must have dimming function that ties into the central environmental controller as well; 3. Must have the capability to produce a full range of useful light spectrum that plants want. 400-700nm range; 4. I prefer to use lamps that provide some white type light for working, as the red/blue lights tend to be harsh on employees. This also eliminates the need for work lighting inside the grow spaces, saving capital; 5. I prefer to use lamps that qualify for rebates that many power companies offer, some will pay for the difference in cost of HPS to LED upgrade; 6. I prefer to use lamps that produce the least btu/fixture.

When using LED technology, we need to adjust how we grow the plants slightly to ensure that we are making up for the differences in light types when compared to HPS. Plants grown under LED light tend to process nutrition a little differently, and at times will use more or less of a particular nutrient(s), because the plant is running differently. The best way I can explain this is the keto diet concept. Instead of running on fat, in this case, plants will run on the spectra provided by the LED light, and what light spectra is missing is made up for by other ways, in this case, Sulphur and Magnesium. LED grown plants, especially cannabis use a lot of S and Mg. Getting the ratios of S and Mg right is the tricky part, but we have that all figured out.

[Growers] need to adjust growing conditions as well to make up for the different environment that the LED provides. Since the LED produces little forward heat when compared to HPS, we need to make up for that in the environment.


Almost all the growers I spoke with are incorporating LEDs, at least in some form. Virtually all growers acknowledge the need to change methodologies when they incorporated LEDs into their grows. There are clear risks involved for a large commercial grower when trying out a new system and the startup costs are significant. The costs savings, however, are also significant. One respondent noted

Virtually all growers acknowledge the need to change methodologies when they incorporated LEDs into their grows. There are clear risks involved for a large commercial grower when trying out a new system and the startup costs are significant. The costs savings, however, are also significant. One respondent noted that, over one year he saved $286,500 in energy costs by at least partially integrating LEDs into his lighting system.  LED might not be the panacea we want…YET, but it has value and is worthy of adoption by the brave and insightful.

Photo credit: Big Buds Magazine

Bridget Hill-Zayat, Esq. is an attorney in the East Coast cannabis industries. She has provided insight to elected officials working on suggested standards for cannabis regulations in PA. Bridget testified before Philadelphia City Council on how the city can increase energy efficiency to help foster the medical cannabis market thrive. She also hosts events with the National Cannabis Bar Association.

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