Cannabis farmers steal about £200m of electricity annually to grow illegal crops indoors - enough to power every home in Newcastle for a year.
Phil Butler, a former detective inspector, co-director of Newcastle University's Centre for Cybercrime and Computer Security (CCCS), is part of a group investigating how new technology can be used to crack down on the criminals.
He said: "The cultivation of cannabis is happening on an industrial scale, but at the moment the police are still very much reliant on intelligence and tip-offs."
"What we are trying to do is develop technologies that will enable us to take a more proactive approach in the fight against cannabis cultivation."
Growing cannabis indoors under lights without soil produces more potent strains but requires a lot of energy.
"The electricity costs associated with even a small-scale farm are astronomical," said Mr Butler. "To get around this, the individuals responsible find ways of siphoning off the electricity from the main source - often this literally means digging down underground outside the premises and hooking into the main supply."
A police report released this week estimated 1.1m plants worth more than £207 million were discovered in the last two years.
"It's about more than money. These farms are essentially death traps," he said. "In one small space such as a loft or a garage you have all this electricity and gallons of water which is a lethal combination."
The problem is the focus of a two-day conference in Newcastle starting on Tuesday. Some of the solutions being discussed are sophisticated metres to detect spikes where unexpectedly high levels of electricity are being withdrawn from the grid.
'Scratch and sniff'
Experts are expected from Holland, where a judge recently upheld a ban forbidding foreigners from entering cannabis cafes. The Netherlands delegation are to discuss the scratch and sniff cards used to educate the public about the distinctive smell associated with a cannabis farm.