Link4 Corporation’s iGrow 100 Greenhouse Controls
A familiar expression is “information is power.” Link4 Corporation’s newest entry into the greenhouse environmental controls world epitomizes this statement.
The iGrow 100 series product line not only provides a flexible and powerful control capability for small to midsize greenhouses, but also features a unique energy management capability.
Major reasons for control automation are to achieve an environment best suited for growing plants within the constraints of the available mechanical equipment, to lower labor costs and to minimize energy costs. The iGrow 100 series product includes all the tools the grower needs to achieve these objectives.
Within the reports section of the iGrow 100 series are seven subsections that relate to equipment and energy use. These are return on investment, graphing, equipment costs, energy costs, equipment usage, energy usage and event logs.
For each piece of equipment connected to the controller, the user has the option of entering the appropriate power requirements. For example, if it is electrical, then voltage, current or power entries will be made. For gas or oil, BTU data is required. Flow rate is added for water consumption calculations.
Next, the user will enter the energy cost data into the iGrow controller. These costs may vary based on seasonal factors as well as time of day. The controller accommodates all of these variations.
Internally, the controller knows exactly when equipment is turned on and when it goes off. Each of these events for every piece of equipment is stored and made available in event logs.
Given all this information, the iGrow 100 series products continuously calculate the individual equipment’s energy consumption and the total energy usage. This energy usage is then translated into the actual costs based on the utility table that was previously entered in the program.
Through the iGrow 100 series data logging and graphing capability, the cost data can be compared against a variety of equipment and set-point scenarios. For example, perhaps more passive cooling (most energy efficient) can be used in the earlier stages of cooling and the active (uses more energy) in later or even in the last stage of cooling. This may result in a slightly higher greenhouse temperature for a while, but the energy cost savings could be dramatic.
This is only one of many possible examples the grower can experiment with to find the approach that provides the greatest savings with minimum impact on the quality of the plants.
Keeping track of the equipment usage has other informational advantages. For example, fans need to be lubricated, fan belts need to be replaced and other preventive maintenance tasks need to be performed. By having total usage data, the preventive maintenance program becomes very practical and eliminates much of the guesswork typically involved.
The bottom line is that having a powerful and easy-to-use tool such as the iGrow in the hands of a greenhouse grower will unleash all kinds of great ideas for saving energy with minimal growing impact. The beauty is that this same grower will be able to affirm his or her ideas with real data.