There are hundreds of thousands of used, high-quality metal shipping containers taking up acres of storage land in port cities all over the world.
Some enterprising companies have taken to creating domestic living spaces, commercial buildings or storage lots out of the huge surplus of the used containers which tend to accumulate in the developed world as it is too expensive to ship them back to China, empty. (We buy their stuff, they don’t buy ours)
Anyway, there are hundreds of thousands of them scattered around the world and can be had for as little as $1500-$3600. apiece (in ‘as is’ condition)
Shipping containers are the perfect containment architecture for vertical gardens
Shipping containers are engineered to be very strong and can be stacked up to 9-high without any additional supports. Windows can even be cut into the metal panels without weakening the structural integrity (most of the strength is in the corners where they lock together) so that daylight may enter the structure.
“Reusable shipping containers provide a cost effective and sustainable approach to building design.” — Public Sector and Local Government Magazine
Might as well get the roof working for you
Dramatically lower cost solar panels are available on the market today. A couple of decades ago it cost over $100 per watt (installed price) to get your power from solar panels during the daytime and without battery backup. As of 2014, it costs less than $4.00 per watt (installed price in the U.S.A.) and if you live in Europe it costs about $2.00 per watt (installed price in Europe)
If you’re wondering about the difference in price between the U.S.A. and Europe, it’s only the profit margin that makes the difference. All the solar panels are comparably priced, as are the inverter units, wiring, etc. and often come from the same manufacturer in China.
So far, we have super cheap and stackable containment for vertical gardens and we have low-cost daytime electricity
Now what about night-time electricity? We have some choices. We can tap the grid and pay the regular commercial electricity rate to run the grow lights and the heat, we can purchase building scale battery systems from a company like SolarCity or you can run a diesel powered generator (a gen-set) for electrical power.
The good news is that commercial battery systems to complement solar panel installations have fallen in price and are approaching price parity with other grid-alternative power sources
Also, diesel fuel prices have risen dramatically since the invention of the gen-set, but these units (although they do emit copious amounts of pollution and you can’t run them indoors) are very reliable and it is almost impossible that a crop failure could result from a gen-set failure as another unit could quickly be transported to the location and hooked up before much crop damage could occur.
Grid power is fine, but to prevent crop failure in the case of winter-time power outages, a gen-set or battery backup is a necessity.
So, it appears that college dorms and BBC broadcasting facilities (for two good examples) can be easily assembled using these massive Lego-like building blocks.
What would we need in order to build vertical gardens?
- Land area equal to one city block
- A number of stackable, used shipping containers
- Solar panel array installed on top of the shipping containers, equal in size to one city block
- Backup power via battery or gen-set
- Grid connection
- Located near any major city
- A number of grow lights per unit
- Hydroponic or low-soil agriculture
- Compost container
- A number of staff to perform seeding, care and harvesting of plants
- One maintenance person per location
The great thing about these super-strong building blocks, is that they can be arranged in any number of ways to suit individual site requirements. Standard container lengths start at 10 feet, 20, 40, 48 and 53 feet — but individual units can be welded or bolted together to arrive at any number of lengths.
Interior-wise, any number of efficient-space designs are possible. Growing indoors where there are no drought, flooding, pests, human theft, or other concerns can be hundreds of times more efficient than conventional farming — and growing indoors means year-round crops. Thanks to solar-powered grow lights.
None of it is rocket science, it’s ‘just’ an opportunity begging for a chance!
- The Next-Generation Greenhouse by Esther Dyson (Project Syndicate)
- Repurposed shipping containers may be building blocks for modular vertical urban farms (TreeHugger.com)