“Electricity is a significant hurdle in vertical farming, constituting 70% of operating costs. We found this challenge intriguing and decided to explore it,” says Ahmad Mohseni, Co-Founder of FlexFarming.
FlexFarming, an indoor farming company, aims to become the UK’s first net-zero strawberry grower. Collaborating with stakeholders across the supply chain, the company implements digital systems and forms business partnerships to develop a highly efficient production system.
Born out of a quest to overcome barriers to sustainable strawberry production, FlexFarming initiated early-stage trials of growing Class 1 strawberries in 2020. Subsequently, it developed the farm concept as a battery (FAB), securing £2.5 million in funding to build a 10-ton strawberry production facility and prove this innovative concept.
“We tested our concept in a 10-ton production facility spanning roughly 500 square meters, operating on 2-3 layers, co-located on a strawberry polytunnel farm. The project grew so large that we established a separate entity- FlexFarming,” explains Ahmad.
Ahmad Mohseni on the left and his colleague
Enhancing energy efficiency through load redistribution
As the CEO of Brits Energy, Ahmad focuses on providing data-driven solutions for improved energy efficiency, energy procurement strategy, smart building management systems, and automated distributed generation systems. Through his work, Ahmad emphasizes that improving energy efficiency extends beyond load reduction. Flexible demand enhances system resilience, reduces costs, and decreases CO2 emissions.
“In vertical farming, you have complete control over the energy profile of the building, so why not implement forecasting on the farm’s energy load? This reduces costs by 30%. On the plant side, we can simulate a cloudy day when electricity prices are higher, lowering electrical consumption. When prices are lower, we go back to simulating a sunny day,” says Ahmad. “Electricity price fluctuations can be translated into weather fluctuations that the plant is already used to.”
Vertical farms as a flexible load
FlexFarming’s “Farm as a Battery” concept is rooted in the fact that the UK’s grid is already saturated, limiting further generation capacity. In response, FlexFarming proposes an integrated model where the energy generation entity and vertical farm become one unit, with the vertical farm acting as a flexible load to balance generation oversupply.
The central question Ahmad poses is, why not store energy in fruit? Instead of relying on batteries, the energy stored in farms can be used, and the excess energy can be stored in fruit, providing a unique offtake option.
FlexFarming is currently developing its business models with different entities showing interest in the model. With plans to scale up the process, the company is designing its first production facility, aiming to have it scaled up by 2026, despite challenges in the industry, such as high inflation, high interest rates, and recent closures of vertical farms.
“Given recent failures, investment communities have come to understand that innovation is not only in technological advancement but also in a sustainable and resilient business model. Vertical farming is a convergence of cleantech and agritech, requiring stakeholders from both industries to collaborate effectively,” Ahmad says.