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Challenge Project

Vertical Farms

Could vertical farms and Circular Food Systems become a part of the sustainability of the decarbonized city?

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Vertical farms have attracted great interest in recent years. This is not surprising, as they address many of the problems of conventional agriculture. They save land, can shorten the logistical distances of food transport and the plants grow in a controlled environment and thus do not need pesticides, are some examples. However, a clear disadvantage of vertical farms is the high electricity consumption. In this challenge, we want to find out how big the potential of vertical farms is and identify relevant criteria for the locations of such farms.

Presented by https://www.yasai.ch

Challenge slides

Challenge a):

Is the complete supply of a city like Bern possible through vertical farms? What are the most important restrictions for the complete supply through vertical gardening? Where is a clear advantage to conventional agriculture? Which are the advantages and disadvantages in terms of CO2 emissions, electricity and water consumption?

Challenge b):

Identify (and illustrate) ideal locations for vertical farms considering:

  • Local electricity costs
  • District heating feed-in potential
  • Local water price
  • Proximity to urban centres
  • Proximity to regenerative plants
  • Other factors?


  • Food consumption by type
  • Development of food consumption:

What we did:

Discussion of possible factors

1. Electricity

1.1 Electricity Costs

While for small consumers with a consumption of up do 100'000 kWh per year the costs for electricity is regulated by public tariffs and the supplier is determined by the consumer's location, larger consumers can freely choose any supplier and negotiate the costs with them [1]. Vertical farms typically are larger consumers, so the tariffs as published under [2] don't apply to them and their electricity costs don't depend on their location.

1.2 Proximity to regenerative power plants

This factor was initially proposed in the challenge pitch. But as vertical farms as large consumers don't need to choose a local supplier for their electricity, we doubt that the immediate proximity of regenerative power plants could be of much relevance. In case they still should be, various data on regenerative power plants in Switzerland would be available on [3].

1.3 Solar Energy Potential

The more of its electricity needed a vertical farm can produce by itself, the greater will be the cost advantage. which makes a location's solar energy potential an important factor to consider. Data about solar energy potentials by municipality, which is also being used for the platform www.sonnendach.ch, is publicly available on [4].

2. Transportation

2.1 Proximity to urban centers

Our initial assumption that a vertical farm should be as close to urban centers as possible to save transportation costs has proven itself wrong in the course of the project, as a vertical farm typically won't sell its produce directly to end consumers, but first will transport it to logistic distribution center, from where it will be further distributed to shops and supermarkets. So the proximity to a distribution center is far more important as a cost-saving factor. Besides, "urban center" is a very vague term, so no public and generally valid list of them and/or their locations is available.

Furthermore, urban centers are known for high rent costs, which actually would be a negative cost-factor.

2.2 Proximity to distribution centers

Transportation time and cost can be reduced by choosing a location as close as possible to a distribution center (cf. 2.1). While there is no published list, for this project we manually put together a list of the main distribution centers of the two large Swiss supermarket chains Coop and Migros. The information necessary for this we could retreive from the supermarkets' and their distribution centers' webpages as well as Google Maps, which provided us not only with the address but also the map coordinates of their location. This can be used to calculate and optimize the proximity of a vertical farms to those distribution center locations.

3. Rent cost

Rent cost is a crucial cost-factor to be considered when choosing a location for a vertical farm. However, we've found it difficult to find complete and reliable information that allowed us to compared rent costs in different regions of Switzerland.

One idea we've came up with is to use a location's population density as a possible indicator for how high the rent cost ist expected to be, parting from the assumption that in densely populated areas, the higher demand for objects to rend will also lead to higher rent costs.

4. Labour cost

A vertical farm can save on labour-cost by being located in an area with a lower wage-level. The most complete and up-to-date data about different wage-levels is the gross monthly wage (middle value) per greater region in Switzerland from the year 2018, published by the Federal Statistics Office [5].

5. Income Taxes

In Switzerland, income taxes can differ highly between different municipalities. So a location's income tax can become a possible relevant factor. We didn't do any more research on this factor in the course of this challenge but assume with confidence that the necessary data would be publicly available.

6. Proximity to district heating sources

Vertical farms produce a lot of heat, that need to be transported out of the building. It would be an advantage to use this heat for district-heating, so the proximity to district heating sources is a factor to consider. [6]

7. Building regulations

Vertical farm buildings need to be of a certain minimal height, which might not comply with every location's building restrictions and zone planning. Further research would be needed to determine possible datasources and their use for optimizing the choice of location.

Concept of an interactive map

To illustrate the advantages and disadvantages of different locations in Switzerland, as well as to help with the decision process to find a suitable location for a vertical farm, we came up with the concept of an interactive map of Switzerland. The users should be able to filter for those factors they themselves consider most relevant, and adjust the weight of each factor for calculating a final score.

Next steps?

  • Most of the available data sources look quite promising and useful, but more effort has to be put into cleaning and aggregating them.
  • So far, the interactive map only exists as a concept. The next step would be to implement a working interactive prototype.

Watch video of our presentation:


[1] https://www.strom.ch/de/energiewissen/produktion-und-handel/strompreise [2] https://www.strompreis.elcom.admin.ch/ [3] https://www.uvek-gis.admin.ch/BFE/storymaps/EE_Elektrizitaetsproduktionsanlagen/ [4] https://opendata.swiss/en/dataset/solarenergiepotenziale-der-schweizer-gemeinden [5] https://www.bfs.admin.ch/bfs/en/home/news/whats-new.assetdetail.14127366.html [6] https://opendata.swiss/de/dataset/thermische-netze-nahwarme-fernwarme-fernkalte

Contributed 3 years ago by Maud for Energy & Climate Hack
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