Food Tech

A distant cousin of Moore's Law explains the rise of vertical farming

Haitz's Law theorizes the rate of progress in LED lighting technology, which is essential to indoor farming.
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· 3 min read

Chances are, you’ve heard of Moore’s Law, the “social fact” that has explained semiconductor progress for over half a century. But how about its lesser-known, distant cousin, called Haitz’s Law, which theorizes the rate of progress in LED lighting, a critical enabling technology for indoor farming?

The law is named after Roland Haitz, a scientist who worked for Hewlett-Packard and Agilent Technologies, who posited in 2000 that every 10 years the amount of light generated by an LED bulb increases by a factor of 20, while the cost per lumen (unit of useful light emitted) falls by a factor of 10. And since then, it’s mostly held true.

To put Haitz’s Law in even more plain terms: LEDs have become more powerful while also becoming less expensive. This advancement has been critical for the fast-growing indoor farming sector, as the expenses of powering a farm packed with HVAC systems, hydroponic infrastructure, and thousands upon thousands of bright, 24/7 lights can add up. In some operations, LED lighting alone can account for between 50% and 65% of the electric bill, according to the 2021 Global CEA Census Report. And AppHarvest, an indoor grower based in Morehead, Kentucky, uses over 30,600 LEDs in one farm.

Deane Falcone, chief scientific officer at Massachusetts-based indoor-farming company Crop One, told Emerging Tech Brew that as LEDs get brighter, they become a more efficient and effective substitute for sunlight.

“We’ve changed lights a couple of times, we’ve upgraded lights, and we’re screening lights all the time. The reason for that is the technology keeps evolving. There’s lots of manufacturers worldwide that are coming for efficient lights,” Falcone said in a March interview. “LEDs are getting better…The energy efficiency of LED lights also increases every couple of years. That’s predicted to be a gradual steady increase over time, probably for the next 10–15 years, it probably will plateau after that, but that’s a good thing.”

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The LED lighting market was worth nearly $69 billion in 2021, per IMARC research, led by manufacturers like Philips Lighting, Samsung, Acuity Brands, and GE Lighting, and the firm estimates it will reach $121 billion by 2027. Falcone also pointed to Sananbio, a lighting company focused specifically on indoor farming.

Some experts, like Michael Weinold, former masters student and researcher at University of Cambridge, Centre for Environment, Energy and Natural Resource Governance, have argued that Haitz’s Law is in need of updating as the standards and expectations around LED lighting have changed since the law was first put forward.

And even if Haitz’s Law does come to a natural conclusion over the next decade or so, Bowery Farming CEO and founder Irving Fain told us it won’t necessarily mean the end of improvement for indoor farm lighting tech.

“We’ve seen efficiencies on the cost of lights themselves, and we certainly see lots of efficiencies in terms of the fixtures and how efficient they are with the energy,” Fain said. “There will be a plateau…But even if Haitz’s Law plateaus, it’s still come a meaningfully long way, and then there’s other areas for innovation around the light that can create even further efficiencies as well.”

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