Solar-Powered Hydroponics Could Be the Future of Agriculture

“Alternative farming” may not be a phrase that everyone recognizes, but thanks to solar-powered hydroponic grow systems, it might be the future of agriculture. These earth-friendly, space-conscious innovations make it possible to grow fresh, nutrient-rich food just about anywhere — from a barge floating off the coast of our biggest cities, to a window in a tiny, urban apartment and even all the way on Mars.

As hydroponic technology continues to advance, this simple solution could be the answer to food deserts and might create a vital link between farming and the startup culture. But before we start changing the world, let’s take a look at what hydroponic grow systems are and why they’re so amazing.

What Is a Hydroponic Grow System?

Hydroponics is an agricultural method that uses nutrient-rich water instead of soil to nourish and grow plants. A hydroponic grow system is technology designed to facilitate the process of hydroponic agriculture. Because hydroponics doesn’t rely on rain or land, it opens up arid, crowded and infertile areas to farming.

A wide variety of hydroponic systems are available, and they all take advantage of different techniques that can deliver water and nutrients to plants in almost any environment. Some systems suspend plants in water, others use a flood and drain system and still others some use drip technology. Hydroponic grow systems can take up as little space as a small aquarium or fill an entire greenhouse.

The addition of solar power to a hydroponic system makes it one of the most energy-efficient, eco-friendly ways to grow food. Many early hydroponic systems relied on LED lights, but new advancements increasingly use the natural power of the sun. For indoor grow systems, this means you need access to a window to make your grow system 100 percent solar.

How Are Solar-Powered Hydroponic Grow Systems Changing the World?

In addition to the environmental advantages — no pesticides, reduced reliance on trucked-in food, fewer carbon emissions — hydroponic grow systems open up a world of agricultural possibilities. There are entire movements taking hold and (literally) growing around the country for indoor agriculture and alternative farming practices.

The movement even has its own annual gathering — Indoor Ag-Con — which was held for the first time in New York City last year. This convention gives growers, farmers, suppliers, investors and innovators a chance to appreciate thelatest developments in grow systems, explore new applications of hydroponic tech and brainstorm future possibilities.

Some of the coolest things to come from hydroponic innovators sound like the stuff of fantasy, but many (like those below) are already happening.

FarmedHere: This indoor farm founded in Illinois is a 90,000 square-foot facility nestled in Chicago’s Bedford Park. They distribute organic herbs and leafy greens to markets and restaurants all over Chicago. They’re also the largest indoor farm on the continent. FarmedHere is looking to expand and become the entire nation’s local farm. They’ve developed an easy transplant process that they liken to “dropping a Lego block wherever you want to put a farm.”

SeaLeaf: Students from the Royal College of Art and Imperial College London designed this hydroponic farming unit to grow veggies while floating off the coastline like a buoy. SeaLeaf farms have been able to demonstrate the potential to nearly triple annual yields of bok choy, producing seven or eight to conventional farming’s two to three.

OAXIS: Barcelona engineers are looking to transform the sand-swept Arabian Peninsula into a global agricultural hub with their solar-powered hydroponic food belt. Oaxis is a modular hydroponic system that would cover nearly 1.5 million square miles of desert to grow fresh food, fight food shortages and reduce reliance on imports.

Urban SkyFarm: Aprilli Design Studio created designs for an ambitious living machine that would function as a high-rise hydroponic community garden. The SkyFarm is designed for use in dense urban areas and would be a net-zero facility, operating completely on solar and wind power. “Leaf” decks provide maximum exposure to sunlight for fruit trees and large vegetables, while the lower decks offer controlled, indoor environments for plants like basil and arugula.

But not all solar-powered hydroponic grow systems are aimed at such large-scale world change. There are plenty ofsmaller systems that individuals can use to create their own indoor Garden of Eden.

Phytopods: These vertical indoor gardens come in three different sizes and can help you grow plants almost five times faster than traditional soil gardening. They take up about as much space as a five-gallon drum and produce as much as a 3-foot-by-5-foot garden plot.

WaterFarm: A traditional bucket hydroponic system, the WaterFarm is simple, small and can be used in thehouse or outside. You can start with one WaterFarm or opt for an eight-pack that gives you more growing options and fresh food variety.

WindowFarms: Thanks to a successful Kickstarter campaign, these vertical gardens can help you grow tasty edibles like herbs and leafy greens even if the ground outside is covered in snow. Simply place the hydroponic system in a window and watch them grow. Or go low-tech and make your own out of recycled plastic bottles.

GrowBot: The GrowBot is an example of a self-built, solar-powered grow system. These GrowBots are simply left outside to gather sunlight and everything else is all said and done. Using the power of the sun, these grow systems feed and water themselves, providing any plants, fruits or vegetables you could want to grow.

Thanks to innovations in solar-powered hydroponics, access to fresh, healthy, delicious food is closer than ever — no matter where you live.