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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Research Project: DEVELOP MANAGEMENT TOOLS FOR EARLY STRESS DETECTION AND EFFICIENT AGROCHEMICAL UTILIZATION FOR PROTECTED HORTICULTURE CROPS

Location: Application Technology Research Unit

Title: Virtual Grower: Software to Calculate Heating Costs of Greenhouse Production in the US

Authors
item Frantz, Jonathan
item Hand, Bryon
item Buckingham, Lee -
item Ghose, Somik -

Submitted to: HortTechnology
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: May 4, 2010
Publication Date: August 1, 2010
Repository URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10113/46616
Citation: Frantz, J., Hand, B.A., Buckingham, L., Ghose, S. 2010. Virtual Grower: software to calculate heating costs of greenhouse production in the US. HortTechnology. 20:778-785.

Interpretive Summary: Greenhouses are used in many cooler climates and heat can be one of the main overhead costs. There has been no easy method of predicting this cost and no way to determine how changes in temperature settings, heating systems, fuel types, and construction decisions influence overall heat costs. In January, 2006, we released a computer program called Virtual Grower that helps calculate heating costs in many U.S. sites. The program utilizes a weather database from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory for basic weather information with which to use in the calculations. A user can define greenhouse design characteristics including material and style, select fuel type and define the heating system, create a heating schedule, and finally predict heating costs for typical weather at their location. Shorter-term predictions with weather forecasts of two days or less can be made with the software if there is an internet connection through integration with local weather forecasts. Virtual Grower can serve as a platform from which many other features can be added, such as plant growth and scheduling. Other kinds of information can also be gathered from the software such as carbon footprint analysis. Continued development will improve the software and allow users to perform baseline analysis of their heating costs, identify areas to improve in their facility, and help take some of the guesswork out of energy analysis in unique greenhouses.

Technical Abstract: Greenhouses are used in many climates either for season extension or year-round production, and can be expensive to heat. Greenhouse users and growers are often faced with management decisions that rely on an understanding of how temperature settings, heating systems, fuel types, and construction decisions influence overall heat costs. There are no easy-to-use programs to calculate heating costs associated with these factors over periods of time like full cropping season. In January, 2006, we released a computer program called Virtual Grower that helps calculate heating costs in many U.S. sites. The program relies upon a weather database from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory for basic hourly temperature, light, and wind information with which to use in the calculations. A user can define unique greenhouse design characteristics, such as material and style, select fuel type and define the heating system, create a heating schedule, and finally predict heating costs for typical weather at their location. Shorter-term predictions with weather forecasts of two days or less can be made with the software if there is an internet connection through integration with local weather forecasts. Virtual Grower serves as a platform from which many other feature can be added, such as plant growth and scheduling, or information gathered, such as carbon footprint analysis. Continued development will improve the software and allow users to perform baseline analysis of their heating costs, identify areas to improve, and take some of the guesswork out of energy analysis in unique greenhouses.

Last Modified: 8/19/2014