Jonathan Cachat PhD walks us through how to dramatically reduce electricity costs in indoor grows using The Dynamic Supplemental Sunlight.
The Dynamic Supplemental Sunlight (DSS) cultivation system is a hybrid-lighting approach to indoor cultivation facilities, using both full-spectrum, natural sunlight and supplemental artificial lights, to drive photosynthesis and healthy plant growth. A hybrid-lighting approach with resource efficient design represents the optimal way to save on production costs while producing high-quality, premium flowering plants.
[1:01] – Jonathan’s background
[3:37] – Jonathan talks about his LSD research
[6:11] – Microdosing LSD
[9:58] – Why bring natural sunlight into indoor grows
[11:18] – Jonathan talks about how the technology works
[13:26] – How do the costs differ from an indoor grow
[16:59] – How are the plants responding differently
[18:46] – Jonathan explains how to carry out light deprivation
[21:44] – Does the height of the room have to be changed for the tubes
[22:57] – What roof alterations need to be made for the system
[24:13] – How does the sunlight affect the temperature of a grow room
[24:45] – What type of cultivation facilities benefit from this lighting
[29:03] – Jonathan answers personal development questions
[32:15] – Jonathan’s contact information
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There is a race on to remove the most expensive inputs that make growing cannabis costly. One of the most expensive inputs is lighting and electricity. Dr. Jonathan Cachat, PhD of CCV Research, is here to tell us how to bring more natural sunlight into indoor grows using cutting edge technology. Jonathan, welcome to CannaInsider.
Jonathan: Thank you Matt. It’s a pleasure to be here.
Matthew: Give us a sense of geography. Where are you in the world today?
Jonathan: I am actually on the beautiful shores of Lake Erie in Cleveland, Ohio.
Matthew: Jonathan, before we jump in to your research, tell us about your background a little bit. How did you get into this industry?
Jonathan: I have a PhD in Neuroscience and Psychopharmacology. I received that from Tulane University down in New Orleans. While I was doing a Post-Doc at the University of California at Davis in Northern California, right next to Sacramento, it was about the same time that the California legislature was implementing and extensive framework or regulations for the medical market there. So, my educational experience in drugs, brain and behavior, which is what psychopharmacology studies, allowed me to join with the flannel shirts of the cannabis farmers coming down from the Emerald Triangle in the state capital, and sort of serve as a voice of reason or at least a scientific background to help the legislatures understand. It was really facilitations between outlaws and regulators, as those outlaws became businessmen.
Matthew: Did you do anything interesting with psychedelics while you were there in California?
Jonathan: Yeah. During my graduate research, we had a license from the DEA, so we were able to study Schedule I though IV controlled substances. So, Schedule I where most of the psychedelics are and cannabis. While it was easy for me to get psychedelics and perform research, you can find those papers on the internet, getting cannabis was a really big issue. It took many months, rather than a few days. So, really jumping into the cannabis industry as well it was pretty clear to me that if there was any additional insights to be gained about how the plant relates to human wellness, that research could be performed faster in a consumer market, rather than the current university system in the United States.
Matthew: So, you studied the effects of LSD on mammals or animals or what exactly?
Jonathan: It was zebra fish. Zebra fish are… the best way I can relate to you exactly what species it is is a species of glow fish that you can find in pet stores. So, that’s a Zebra Fish with a jellyfish gene to make it glow.
Matthew: Well, I’m very interested in this topic because I think psychedelics can be very dangerous if put in the wrong hands or something that doesn’t know what they’re doing, but in the right environment they can be incredibly powerful. Can you tell us a little bit about that research with LSD?
Jonathan: It’s always interesting as a psychopharmacologist to hear how the public and the politics refer to “drugs”. To me they’re all just compounds. So, just them you mentioned sort of a danger. What’s the danger? When it comes to LSD and it comes to cannabis there really is no documented overdose danger. So, while I will agree with you that as we’re at this point with cannabis legalization, I’m sort of skittish to bring the discussion of psychedelic legalization to the forefront, but in many ways LSD is just as safe as cannabis in terms of you’re not going to overdose from it. You’re just going to have to have a safe environment to do it.
Matthew: I’m sorry, I’m just fascinated by this. So, you gave LSD to some fish. How did they react to it?
Jonathan: We were modeling effective disorders, so anxiety and depression, as well as addiction, which is exactly how we had to frame it to the National Institutes of Drug Abuse in order to get the grant money to study it. What we were modeling was essentially if we can induce alcohol withdraw or opiate withdraw in the fish, how do they behave. Generally what they did was swim to the bottom of the fish tank and remain there. Then when we looked at their physiological measure they also were releasing the stress hormone cortisol. We knew that that behavior was linked to a high anxiety state.
So, when we gave them Prozac and other drugs that are serotonergic antidepressants they would swim at the top of the tank. So, that was pretty clear cut for what we call anxiolytic drugs that eliminate anxiety and then anxiogenic drugs which increase anxiety. When it came to the psychedelics, this includes LSD, psilocybin, PCP and DMT, ibogaine, the behavioral profile varied widely and it wasn’t clear that it was inducing anxiety or reducing anxiety. What was clear is that their exploration of the fish take was dramatically increased.
Matthew: What do you think about this phenomenon of microdosing LSD that’s kind of popular in Silicon Valley right now with the tech community?
Jonathan: I would say, safely, as if not to confer the wrong message to your listeners, that it’s a very interesting area right for research in that the psychedelics are probably the best tool researchers have in the toolbox that will allow them to probe cognitive functions and consciousness in the human brain. So, it’s interesting when you think about microdosing and LSD because it’s already a microdose compared to any other substance that most humans consume that are measured in milligrams. This is measured in micrograms and nanograms. What I guess I’m saying is we don’t really know at a physiological, neuroscientific level exactly what’s happening in your cerebral cortex when the molecule of LSD is introduced. We just understand that it pulls back the shades of pre-conception in terms of seeing things for the first time and having a new look at things without the enculturation and what you’ve been taught to think or the modes of cognition that are related to your cultural upbringing. It pulls those back and allow you to look at a problem in a new way, and in fact make connections between divergent information or knowledge where connection wasn’t apparent before.
Matthew: Well said. What would you consider a normal adult dose or a typical adult dose and then a microdose? I’m not letting you off the LSD topic here Jonathan.
Jonathan: Generally we were giving the Zebra Fish, and this is pretty big for the Zebra Fish at least, but 250 micrograms of LSD. That’s a huge dose for humans. How we discuss it pharmacologically is essentially what’s the threshold dose. The threshold dose is about 30 micrograms for LSD, and that is the first noticeable cognitive effects or change from it. So, I would assume that we’re somewhere between 30, 40, 50 or less than that, so 30, 40, 20 in terms of microdoses, because I don’t think you essentially want to feel it. I’m not exactly too sure if there are people out there measuring these things in clandestine labs and giving people exact dosage or potency, analytical results. Hey, maybe we’ll look forward to discussing the next big industry being the emergence of psychedelic testing labs as the industry comes online.
Matthew: Gosh I hope so. I really think there’s a lot of promise there. Also as a footnote, just anybody interested in this subject, there’s a great Netflix documentary about DMT that Jonathan mentioned, dimethyltryptamine, I believe it is. It’s DMT, The Spirit Molecule. If you like documentaries and have Netflix, that one is really good and worth watching that explores some related topicality there. You’re at Tulane in New Orleans, kind of the hub of debauchery and then around all the clean sunshine biking people in Davis. Was that a big contrast to jump between those two places?
Jonathan: Not really. It was also considered AG land up there. I’m originally from Ohio in the Midwest where we have soybeans and corn primarily. No, while I miss New Orleans and love it dearly, it was sort of a move back to home for me.
Matthew: Jonathan, I know you’re going to tell us how to bring natural sunlight into indoor grows, but can you tell us why somebody might want to do this to begin with.
Jonathan: Most simply, plants prefer natural sunlight. That’s the light that they have evolved to thrive under. More complexly there’s three general aspects of light that you’re looking at when you’re growing cannabis. The intensity of the light, the spectral quality of the light and the photo period of the light. Of course any grower will tell you the photo period is related to flowing in cannabis. Intensity is most directly related to yield, but it’s that spectral quality and spectral composition is what leads to the finished product in terms of taste and smell, or at least the biggest influence on it. So, by replacing the spectrally empty HPS lights with the full spectrum of the natural sun, you are able to grow a more complex and more diverse and rich product like those seen in the outdoor coming out of the Emerald Triangle, but you’re able to do that indoor and not have to fight with the chaos of the natural environment that farmers have to deal with on a daily basis.
Matthew: So, that’s why somebody would want to do it. How does it work exactly? Tell us how this technology works to make this happen.
Jonathan: The main component is made by a company called Solatube out of Southern California. They’ve been in the business of tubular daylighting devices for about 20 years now. What they offer over the competitors in terms of bringing in sunlight into our space is they have the highest light efficiency transfer. It’s a fancy way to say they’re the best at bringing the purest and most sunlight into the space as possible. That’s achieved through a few patents. Namely on a reflective material called Spectral Light Infinity, which is actually made and manufactured and formulated at a molecular level to be as smooth as it possibly can, and reduce the amount of light that scatters each time the light hits it and bounces off.
Matthew: You mentioned the light bouncing off. How much light is lost as the sun bounces around the tube on its way into the grow, to the plant?
Jonathan: With the Solatubes up to and the Spectral Light Infinity lining, 0.7 percent is lost per drop. So it’s less than 1 percent, meaning that there have been several installs for example where Solatube has ran these tubular devices underground into mines that have that have a flood risk. So, you can’t have any electrical lights down or else you’ll electrocute all your miners if it floods. So, they’ve run them as far as up to 100 feet underground with 9-90 degree angles in them, and there’s still appreciable sunlight at the bottom of the diffuser down underground. It really is the best way to transfer sun where you need it to be, and there’s no other products on the market that can do it as well as the Spectral Light Infinity.
Matthew: Let’s run through an example. Let’s say you have a 25,000 square foot grow. How would the setup cost with supplemental sunlight like you’re describing differ from a traditional indoor grow?
Jonathan: I want to compare the equipment here. I think it’s probably worth mentioning too at this point that the use of the Solatubes is just one component of the sun grown indoor system. It’s a way to sort of think about a lighting control mechanism. We have the Solatubes that capture and transfer the sunlight. We have a grow room intelligence system that measures the available sunlight both inside and outside. Then that is directly linked to our artificial supplemental light. So, the full system is sort of an automatic balance between the amount of available sunlight coming in and the amount of artificial light we need to compensate in order to keep our intensities up so our yields are still met.
In terms of just the lighting equipment alone, generally if we’re talking about 25,000 square feet, a theoretical approach to these costs where it’s just based on equipment. There’s no volume rebates or anything like that, and there’s also no energy efficient rebates given to the growers who are switching from high energy to low energy, it’s about $50 a square foot for the HPS systems in terms of the lighting equipment. For the DSS equipment it’s about $35 more, around $85 per square foot for the DSS system.
Matthew: That acronym, DSS, just describe what that means for everybody again.
Jonathan: DSS is sort of a way to conceptualize the notion that I just explained, Dynamic Supplemental Sunlight, in that the system dynamically balances the sunlight with the artificial lights.
Matthew: What kind of savings could a grower or business owner expect, having that Dynamic Supplemental Sunlight, as opposed to just LED or traditional grow lights indoors?
Jonathan: This is the sort of shift in the balance of the equation. There was an increase in the initial capital costs, but your operating costs, let’s say, roughly are about $45 per square foot if you are doing the electrical load for the HPS lights and the HVAC. For the DSS system that brings in the natural sunlight we’re looking at about $10 a square foot. So, annually and HPS we could consider one this size to have about $1.1 million in annual electrical costs. Whereas the Sungrown Indoor System comes in at around $300,000. So we’re looking at a savings of approximately $800,000 a year.
Matthew: Wow, that’s massive.
Jonathan: It is. I have talked to so many operators out there who have $100,000+ monthly electrical bills, and I feel their pain, but I feel like they also sort of are feeling the crunch of wholesale values decreasing and they’re looking at their $100,000 a month electrical bill saying how are we going to make this work for another two or three years.
Matthew: Interesting, okay. That’s good to know. How do you see plants responding differently? You mentioned plants responding differently with the supplemental lighting. You mentioned that it’s the sunlight’s ideal source of energy for plants, but we’ve got kind of a hybrid system going with the sunlight bouncing through a tube, coming out to the plants, and the LEDs or traditional lights. So, those two working together, what kind of behavior have you seen the plants exhibit?
Jonathan: Right, and I’m glad you characterized that at a behavioral level because previously we were talking about molecular levels and terpenes in cannabinoid production, but at a behavioral level it’s perhaps the most evident, but also one of the most interesting. We had time lapse cameras inside all of these grow rooms when we were doing the initial R&D. First it was do the plants even grow underneath these lights. Once we saw the time lapse videos where the sun would come in through the tube in the morning and the plants’ leaves would wake up and then track and follow with the sunlight as it moves through the space, that was a pretty clear indication that the plants liked the sunlight that was coming through.
Perhaps more interestingly, we haven’t really probed this much further yet, we noticed in the second round of R&D, in terms of facility design, that the LEDs would flip on maybe at 7 a.m. and there’s not a large amount of sunlight coming into the room at that time, but once we got to 9:30-10:00 a.m., the sun started taking over and the LEDs dimmed down. What was interesting, just scrubbing through sort of the daily time lapses, is that it almost appeared that later in the flowering period the plants had sort of trained themselves to wait to wake up until the sunlight came through. So, we would have these weird scenarios where the lights would come on, remain sort of leaves down sleeping, but as soon as the sunlight came in, they all just jumped up with joy immediately and just started tracking with the sun. So, there might be something there, but I’m not too sure about the cognitive abilities of plants at this point.
Matthew: Now what happens if you need to make the room go dark? How can you carry out light deprivation in this type of environment?
Jonathan: There are butterfly dimmers that Solatube has designed to put inside of these units. You’re able to automatically just open and shut them, and when you do you’re blocking out 99.8 percent of any of the sunlight coming in. So, it’s perfect for [19.05 unclear] capable, and in fact it’s much easier just to flip a light switch than it is to be pulling tarps over and across. Also worth noting too, the technology to capture the sunlight, besides the dimmer, there are no mechanical parts. So, when you’re trying to balance the financial equation you have things in there like semi-annual or annual bulb replacements. There are no bulbs. There are no bulbs to be replaced. The maintenance these units need is a spray down with a hose, depending on how close you are to the ag fields that are kicking up a lot of dust. The dimmer, it just sits right inside and being the only mechanical part, that perhaps is where you could have additional costs, but they are very well built and replacing a dimmer isn’t a big deal, nor is it really a big cost.
Matthew: What’s the experience like to open a dimmer of a totally dark room? Do you feel like Bruce Almighty parting the clouds, “Let there be light”.
Jonathan: Exactly. Like that, or it’s sort of like you’re standing underneath a Super Mario Brothers tube and you’re ready just to jump up into it. It’s seeing and feeling really is believing in terms of the Sungrown Indoor System. So, sort of been discussing this with industry people for several years now. I’ve come to realize that what people sort of imagine in their heads when they hear the system being described wildly varies. When you see it in person for the first time everybody sort of invariably was shocked and said, this is way more simple or less complicated that what I had originally thought. I thought there was going to be bells in this, there’s bells and whistles.
Then the most sort of true testament I think is when you do stand underneath this sunlight that’s brought into the room it’s really sort of an unusual and alarming feeling, because you feel the sunlight. You can feel the sunlight, but it’s not a feeling of sunburn. You associate being out in the direct sunlight at the beach with some sort of element of I’m burning slightly. When you’re inside these rooms you can feel the sunlight and recognize that it’s sunlight, but you don’t feel like you’re getting sunburnt. That’s why I say seeing is believing.
Matthew: What about the height of the room? Does that need to be different to accommodate the tubes?
Jonathan: The height of the room can be variable. We started with eight feet. We’ve gone up to ten feet in terms of the roof structure. Generally the facilities that we’re specing out now have a room height of around 12 to 16 feet. Generally the biggest variable that effects the cost of this system is the distance between the ceiling in your grow room and the ceiling in the building that your grow room is in. So, to run an extra extension tube length all the way down, that can affect the price of the system, but like I was mentioning earlier with the cave example or the mining example, it won’t really affect the performance that much. In terms of how far the grower prefers to have his lights above the canopy of the flowering plants, everybody has different rules of thumb. Everybody has a different approach. Really what we’ve done a CCV is work with the growers and work with the builders and also the business guys to balance a system that meets their needs in particular.
Matthew: How many holes would a grower need to make in the roof, and what does that entail, that process?
Jonathan: I think it’s sort of an old adage. The more light you can get in the better it’s going to be. It proves true. Really when we’re designing a system custom built for any facility we max it out in terms of what’s the max density of tubes that we can theoretically model on the roof space. So that gets us an idea of how much maximum sunlight we can get in the space and perhaps more importantly, how the sunlight moves through the space as the sun changes its position in the sky. Of course from there we have to pull it back. It’s a balance at that point between the structural integrity of the roof and the amount of sunlight that we can bring in.
So, I work with structural engineers or the project’s general contractor to find tha6t proper balance based on what type of building they’re growing in, what type of roof structure is there, what state they’re growing in. So, it’s hard to give you a specific number of how many holes you would need in the roof because it’s all really dependent both on your floor plan, your location on the globe, and the building that you’re in.
Matthew: What does the natural sunlight do to temperature in a room or grow room?
Jonathan: That is a good question because it’s another sort of negative of having the high intensity discharge to the HPS lights in the room. They generate an enormous amount of heat, but then has to be sort of fought or reduced by your HVAC. So, regular skylights bring in natural sunlight. So, what you’re used to seeing, sort of the square design with the plastic cover on it. Those will transfer the IR wavelengths that are the heat generating wavelengths of the sunlight. What makes Solatube different from their nearest competitor is that they have technology built into the product that absorbs that infrared wavelengths and then dissipates before it even gets a chance to get into your rooms. So, they have the best light to solar heat gain ratio of any skylight product on the market.
Effectively what that meant, we had an enormous Grownetics grow room monitoring system in all of these R&D units. So, we had very granular data on temperature in particular. There was no discernable or significant measurable heat gain that we could notice while we were performing and developing the system.
Matthew: Is there a rule of thumb in terms of what types of cultivation facilities can benefit from this supplemental lighting? I’m sure there’s people listening saying, is this a fit for me or how would I know or anything like that.
Jonathan: I think it’s best to characterize growing with HPS lights as a twilight industry in that most reasonable cultivators, while they may have come up into the game by growing with HPS lights, they understand that that ship has sort of sailed, and it’s on its way across the horizon. So, they’ll agree that a hybrid lighting approach to cultivation is where the future is at. So, really any hybrid lighting approach by definition is one that incorporates natural sunlight with the artificial light. So, there’s great progress in Big AG and even in cannabis in terms of finding the right balance of LEDs to greenhouse, in greenhouses. It’s sort of the same process with the Sungrown Indoor System. The difference between the Sungrown Indoor System and a greenhouse in terms of hybrid lighting approaches to cultivation is essentially because we’re growing in a contain, you can just think of it as a Yeti cooler. The ability for the cooler or your indoor to withstand massive or drastic changes in the outside ambient temperature is far greater than what can be provided in a greenhouse situation.
Matthew: What’s the lowest hanging fruit here in terms of geographies? Is this any place with the sun? What about your home state of Ohio? Where’s the best geographies that can use this technology, this dynamic supplemental sunlight?
Jonathan: Yeah, it’s interesting. So, at face value the total savings annually that you’re going to receive is directly correlated with your average annual days of sunlight. So, places like Southern California, Desert Hot Springs, Arizona and New Mexico where they have 300+ annual days of sunlight, that’s of course where you’re going to see the most dramatic reduction in your electrical lode. What about places on the East Coast? First noting on the East Coast that while in Ohio we’re able to grow cannabis outdoors, we not have as long of a season as out in California, it can still be done, but the regulators on the East Coast are generally more concerned about security and the sort of not in my backyard approach to cannabis cultivation. They don’t want to see it. They don’t want to smell it. They really don’t want to know about it.
So, in that situation your forced indoors. So, any savings that you can get, any time that you can shut off those artificial lights, you’re saving money. So, while they’re not going to see reductions that are 75 to 80 to 85 percent reduction in their annual electrical load that you would see in Southern California. The idea of saving 50 to 60 is still pretty appealing when you’re trying to balance the sheet here on the East Coast.
Matthew: Jonathan, I want to pivot to some personal development questions to help the listeners get a sense of who you are personally. With that, is there a book that has had a big impact on your life or your way of thinking that you’d like to share?
Jonathan: Yeah, so, E.O. Wilson is a Harvard biologist. He wrote a book called Consilience. I wish I could remember the subtitle. I think it’s called The Unity of Knowledge. The Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge where essentially he calls for the unification of information. A sort of cross pollination between academic disciplines as sort of a fruitful area of discovery. I think reading that book an undergraduate has really sort of pushed me to understand and try to apply different approaches from different academic disciplines or different professional disciplines and see if there’s any value in what they’ve learned and how it can be applied to whatever I’m working on. I guess I would just encourage people, it’s sort of diversity and diversity of thought is the foundation of insight and discovery. So, by reaching out and looking at different things that might not be related to exactly what you’re working on, you may find the answer that you were looking for the whole time.
Matthew: Is there a tool that you consider valuable to your day-to-day productivity that listeners might not have heard of?
Jonathan: I’ve been doing a lot of writing lately, a lot of helping people with applications, and so there’s a new tool that I’ve been using to keep an eye on not only my spelling and my grammar, but sort of my prose. There’s a plugin called Grammarly where you can do your word processing in the Grammerly app or you can just copy and paste it into the app. It’s tests for things beyond the, like I mentioned. You’ve used the word therefore 60 times in this document. You might want to consider another word. It’s sort of beyond just spell check. It’s like you have a human proofreader there on call and on demand. It’s Grammarly.
Matthew: That’s a good one. I’ve used that too, and I really think that’s a great plugin. It’s free for most people I think. I use it in Chrome, like a Chrome plugin.
Jonathan: Right, yeah.
Matthew: That is a good one. Final personal development question. Did you ever take LSD while you were giving the fish LSD? You can tell me because it’s just you and me. It’s just you and me. You can tell me the truth.
Jonathan: I can neither confirm or deny any of that, and I will say that the DEA does not mess around with inventory control and trackability. Same is sort of true with the cannabis industry and cannabis as well. Not only was I the one in the lab managing and sort of directing that, but we had undergraduates come through as well. When you have different people coming into a lab that has controlled substances you really need to take it seriously because there’s not only… I mean in addition to the criminal charges, you’re going to lose your ability to pursue what the research that you built your career on so the risk benefit analysis doesn’t really weigh out.
Matthew: Okay, good answer. Very professional. Jonathan, in closing how can listeners learn more about you? Throw out your website and tell us how we can connect.
Jonathan: So the website is www.ccvresearch.com. It’s a good place to learn more information about the Sungrown Indoor System and how to get in contact with us. On social media platforms as well it’s just @ccvresearch and of course I’d be happy to connect and discuss things on LinkedIn as well. My last name is Cachat.
Matthew: Just for everybody listening that’s C-C-V like Charlie, Charlie, Victor Research. Jonathan, thanks so much for coming on the show today and educating us. I think this is really the beginning of a huge change from almost all electric indoor grows to supplemental like you’re doing. A move to supplemental and a move to greenhouse too, I think those are two big things, and this race for a lower cost of production that we’re already starting to see happen, especially in Colorado right now as the price falls on wholesale part of cannabis.
Jonathan: Right, exactly. It’s a pleasure to chat and that’s exactly the point that I try to emphasize to everyone is that you can see your profit margin shrinking, and the days of black market without any compliance costs or paying, maybe you pay for an attorney, but idea for paying for an accountant and a marketing department and a website team and a social media team, they’re dramatically decreasing wholesale value of cannabis and you’re increasing cost of production. You really have to consider more resource efficient ways if you’d like to stay in business and definitely last well into the future as this industry settles down from the onboarding startup stage.
Matthew: Well put, thanks again Jonathan.
Jonathan: Thanks Matt.