The Reinvention of the Traditional Greenhouse with Energy Efficient Solutions

Ceres Greenhouse Solutions

Ceres Greenhouse Solutions is a greenhouse design company unlike any of the others that are simply steel manufacturers. Rather, Ceres has a business model that focuses on changing the traditional greenhouse design that has been used as the standard for over a century in the greenhouse industry.
Ceres Greenhouse Solutions is a team of architects, consultants, and engineers who analyze how greenhouses work and all that goes into keeping an environment stable like irrigation, heating, cooling, and CO2 production. Ceres wants its clients to produce higher yields at lower costs compared to other greenhouses and indoor growing operations. “Typical greenhouse manufacturers sell you a greenhouse; we want to sell you a solution. The solution is not just the building but also everything that goes into the building and ensuring that you get the best results out of that environment,” says Chris Uhlig, chief executive officer and director of Ceres Greenhouse Solutions.

Ceres was created in 2011 by Marc Plinke after building a net-zero house that turned out to be net positive, allowing him to provide energy back into the grid. While building his net-zero house, a question arose about where his food comes from.

Currently, food is transported an average of 1,600 miles in the United States before it arrives at a grocery store where it can be purchased. Growing locally in energy-efficient greenhouses is one sustainable solution to this issue. The outcome of this idea led to the inception of Ceres Greenhouse Solutions.

“We have to do something about these greenhouses because they’re just not efficient enough to allow food to be grown locally in any climate, and that is because commercially available greenhouses don’t use any insulation,” says Chris. There are not many places around the world that have a climate mild enough to grow in regular greenhouses year-round.

Mark wrote a book with previous co-owner Lindsey Schiller in 2016 called The Year-Round Solar Greenhouse to raise awareness about the different concepts and materials to use for a small-scale residential greenhouse year-round in any climate. Aside from material selection and building methods, it also explains how to store thermal energy using various strategies. Ceres has taken these ideas to a commercial scale to have a larger impact on how food and plants can be produced locally.

Twenty-five people are employed by Ceres, mostly at its headquarters in Boulder, Colorado and at various remote locations across the U.S. Ceres is also currently in the process of opening up a European office in Germany.

The vast majority of Ceres’ customers produce cannabis or food commercially, but Ceres also works with educational institutions on a variety of programs. Recently, the company discussed a potential partnership with the University of Colorado to cooperate on some new cultivation research. Similar conversations have been conducted with a school in North Carolina, and Ceres has even traveled to Greece to discuss developments in greenhouse research with a branch of the Greek government. The company is heavily involved in data analysis, research, and testing new materials through collaboration with other organizations.

Ceres works with nonprofit organizations on programs that assist communities in innovative ways. It donated a greenhouse to a program in Denver that helps veterans who have PTSD with their symptoms by allowing them to work in a greenhouse environment. “It is now known that working in a greenhouse can help to treat PTSD,” says Chris. The donated greenhouse was built in four days, which is quite a feat, and is now in the process of expanding with additional features including a restaurant and a food processing facility. “In the end, it’s about a nonprofit by veterans for veterans to give them an environment where they can thrive and get over symptoms of PTSD.”

For a number of years, there has been interest surrounding the use of greenhouses as they relate to local food production, and the growth of the cannabis industry has initiated much new research and education in the agricultural industry. There is potential to make a great deal more money with cannabis than traditional agriculture, and it has become a catalyst for the development of new, innovative greenhouses.

“If you think about it, there’s a lot of stuff happening right now in the cannabis world that can be applied to the general agriculture industry or to any type of food production in the future. New technologies were out there; they were just too expensive to implement or to even test, and now with the growing legalization of cannabis, all of a sudden, that industry is the driver for this innovation,” says Chris. Ceres partners with other forward-thinking groups to be a part of this change and the introduction of solutions that will change how food is grown.

Ceres has an exclusive and patented design process in the industry that focuses on insulation, energy consumption, and higher yields. “Typically, greenhouse manufacturers today try to differentiate themselves by providing new materials but they still use the same design, and the greenhouse has the same flaws,” says Chris. Ceres focuses on the environment and the outcome of the crop within its greenhouses, and with this focus they are disrupting the way greenhouses are developed.

The insulation that is used in Ceres greenhouses can retain heat or cold better within the structure, which is a valuable feature, making it easier to maintain optimal temperatures for food production without having to use more energy. Also, Ceres can completely seal its greenhouses, which is unique in the industry.

“You can keep the temperature and humidity levels within our greenhouses stable within a couple of degrees and percentage points; and the same for CO2 levels,” says Chris. “Specifically, on the cannabis side, a lot of people grow in an indoor environment that can be kept stable; you can do that in our greenhouse, but you cannot do that in any other greenhouse.”

Another distinctive aspect of the Ceres greenhouse design is the solid north wall with a reflective metal that is painted white on the inside, which allows growers to harvest light within the greenhouse. “In a traditional greenhouse, any sun that doesn’t hit a plant usually exits through a glazed wall. In a Ceres greenhouse, any light that misses a plant hits a reflective solid wall and bounces back onto the plants, resulting in increased light levels inside the greenhouse,” says Chris. The amount of light available in a Ceres greenhouse is greater than the artificial light in an indoor grow facility or a traditional greenhouse. “Light harvesting, the ability to seal, and the insulation that we’re using with the ability to keep the environment stable are all unique aspects to our building that actually allow us to then produce higher yields at lower costs.”

Ceres will continue down the path of innovation and discovering new partners with unique ideas. “As we like to say, we are only maybe fifty percent there in terms of achieving energy efficiency in a sustainable way, so there’s still a lot more research and testing that needs to happen, which is why the focus on universities and research facilities is important for us,” says Chris. Ceres is focused on developing the complete solution for its customers, and it is in a continuous cycle of research, testing, and finding new partnerships to remain a leading greenhouse solutions provider.

Silver (and Steel) Linings

The construction industry has managed to overcome some massive hurdles in 2020. Despite a range of challenges, from orders to halt work during the shutdown to navigating new health and safety requirements to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the industry kept going. As the year draws to a close, it is time to celebrate some of its notable success stories.

December 3, 2020, 11:17 AM EST