TED Conversations

Jacob Chambers

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Retrofitting greenhouses to make them more viable for desert agricultural production

From his talk I derived that the flexible PV material, that is soon to come out on the market, could be implemented in greenhouse designs possibly with great effect. I am proposing replacing standard glass used for the flexible PV material in a traditional hoop style/ semicircle. The ability to collect the energy from the sun could be used to power LED lighting systems that would provide the spectrum of light necessary to each specific crop. Drawing upon his ambient temperature idea I would like to also postulate that using a system of pipes run underneath the greenhouses would be capable of creating ambient temperatures suitable to crops. In colder deserts would it be possible to tap geo-thermal energy and use the same pipes that cools the greenhouses to also heat them? I viewed an interesting TED talk that discussed greenhouses that captured ocean mists for cooling and water with great effect and believe that their design could be implemented with the PV and ambient temperature designs. Thoughts and comments are greatly appreciate and most important thank you for your time.

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  • Jun 27 2012: Jacob, an expansion on your idea would be to use a desert w/ a moderate temperature to have both warm and cold climate crops - take the heat from one greenhouse (cold climate) and pump it into the warm climate greenhouse.

    Also, since deserts don't have much water in their environments, they endure vast temperature swings between day and night. It'd be a good idea to use the ground (directly) or an underground water reservoir to act as a thermal reservoir to buffer the greenhouse temperatures.

    As for LEDs that are tuned to each crop's light spectrum, I don't think that's a great idea. PVs only convert ~50% of the light they receive into electrical energy - and that's for the expensive multi-junction panels. LEDs aren't 100% efficient either, so you're talking about a lot of energy lost before the plants ever have a chance to absorb anything. It'd be more practical to just let nature do what nature does and let the light go directly to the plants.

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