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  • Author or Editor: Lee Buckingham x
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Greenhouses are used in many climates 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 heating costs. There are no easy-to-use programs to calculate heating costs associated with these factors over full cropping seasons. A computer program called Virtual Grower was created that helps calculate heating costs at many U.S. sites. The program uses a weather database of typical hourly temperature, light, and wind information of 230 sites from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in the calculations. A user can define unique design characteristics such as building material and construction style. The user also defines the type of heating system and heating schedule, and then the program will predict heating costs based on typical weather at the selected location. Shorter-term predictions with weather forecasts of 2 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. Continued development will improve the software and allow users to perform baseline analysis of their heating costs, identify areas in their production to improve efficiency, and take some of the guesswork out of energy analysis in unique greenhouses.

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