Submitted to: Greenhouse Product News
Publication Type: Trade Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 10/1/2014
Publication Date: 11/1/2014
Citation: Boldt, J.K. 2014. Has your greenhouse gone virtual?. Greenhouse Product News. 24(11):36-41.
Technical Abstract: Virtual Grower is a free decision-support software program available from USDA-ARS that allows growers to build a virtual greenhouse. It was initially designed to help greenhouse growers estimate heating costs and conduct simple simulations to figure out where heat savings could be achieved. Features have been slowly added and now VG can assist with a suite of decision-making scenarios. It allows users to experiment with "what-if" scenarios in a risk-free setting. Since its initial release in 2005, more than 20,000 copies have been downloaded by users in 84 countries. Example scenarios that VG can assist with include the following: compare energy costs of different greenhouse designs and materials before committing to a new greenhouse structure, compare energy costs across multiple locations, compare energy costs for various fuel sources based on current and predicted pricing, estimate cost savings that may be achieved by upgrading or retrofitting an existing structure with energy-efficient components, make real-time predictions of energy use, see the impact of supplemental lighting on plant growth and development, assist in crop scheduling by calculating a start date for a crop based on a target finish date, and estimate total energy costs during crop production at different temperature set points. Two case studies are presented to demonstrate how growers can use VG to estimate potential cost savings. In case study #1, growers could reduce estimated energy costs by more than 50% by eliminating holes/gaps in their greenhouse covering material and retrofitting/upgrading the greenhouses with high-efficiency heaters and an energy curtain. Case study #2 demonstrates how growers can select a target finish date for a crop and back calculate the estimated transplant date based on desired temperature set points in the greenhouse. In the coming year, we will release the next installments of Virtual Grower. Enhanced features will include improved graphics, the addition of more than 100 new locations, the addition of additional plant species, behind the scenes improvements for faster performance, a built-in language so that all three languages (English, Spanish, and French) will be available in the same download, expansion of the lighting options tab to include LEDs, expansion of plant quality metrics, and the addition of plant growth models.