Sustainability award to Chief Horticulturalist Bill Cole for greenhouse energy improvements

U of T’s Chief Horticulturalist, Bill Cole, has led the change for energy efficiency in our plant growth facilities through relentless effort on lighting retrofits. Cole’s work has earned him the Sustainable Action Award from Facilities and Services.

Photo credit: Thanh Nguyen

Plant science requires tightly controlled temperature and lighting, whether in a growth chamber or a greenhouse, but the power demands for these conditions can approach industrial levels. Earth Sciences Building greenhouses contain specimens representing hundreds of plants in specialized environments to mimic desert, tropical and temperate zones.

In 2021, Cole’s team retrofitted one zone of the Earth Sciences Building greenhouses from old yellow sodium lamps to LED panels.  This pilot project reduced energy consumption and lowered heat output. There was an added benefit of more blue and red wavelengths to enhance growth of research and teaching plants. The improved lighting will allow growth of light-hungry research plants from Brazil and South Africa.

Goldleaf Technologies has provided 200 Thrive LED Grow Lights to retrofit all 15 greenhouse zones with LED panels starting in January 2023. Goldleaf notes that their LED lights provide over 50,000 hours of light, losing only a fraction of intensity over their lifespan compared to obsolete lighting systems that require frequent repair.

The Greenhouse facility operation team has the experience to operate this specialty lighting and has developed a detailed schedule to upgrade them. The new LED panels will be installed over two months, gradually changing the yellow glow atop the Earth Sciences Building to a more even hue. This will reduce energy consumption by 33%, moving toward U of T’s goal to be net Carbon positive by 2050.

Cole donated a portion of his Sustainable Action Award to Sustainability Network, whose mission is to strengthen environmental nonprofit leadership. Congratulations, Bill!

By: Neil Macpherson