Apple's $1 Billion Data Center Runs on 100% Renewables

In February, we reported that Apple would power its biggest US data center – $1 billion, 500,000 square-feet in North Carolina – with solar and fuel cells.

After getting flack for years for lagging on environmental issues, such as toxics in its in products and running on coal to fuel its huge energy footprint, Apple announced today that its new data center will run 100% on renewable energy.

The original plan was for 20 megawatts (MW) of solar on 100 acres, but after buying nearby land, they doubled it to two 20 MW systems on 250 acres, using SunPower (Nasdaq: SPWR) panels.

And it’s building a 5 MW biogas-powered fuel cell installation powered by Bloom Energy.

It’s the largest private solar array and largest non-utility fuel cell installation, but it will still provide only 60% of the energy. Apple will buy the other 40% from local and regional sources of renewable energy.

As for purchasing the rest rather than generating it on-site, Apple says, buying "clean local energy helps us ensure our sources are reputable and responsible, and encourages local investment in renewable projects. Adding renewable energy sources like these displaces dirtier energy sources from the grid. We’re also partnering with NC GreenPower – an independent, nonprofit organization created by the North Carolina Utilities Commission – to increase local renewable energy production throughout North Carolina. Today Apple’s largest project with NC GreenPower is helping the local landfill generate electricity using their waste methane gas."

The data center is certified LEED-Platinum. "We know of no other data center of comparable size that has achieved this level of LEED certification," says Apple.

Some of its energy-efficient design elements are:

  • A chilled water storage system to improve chiller efficiency by transferring 10,400 kWh of electricity consumption from peak to off-peak hours each day
  • Use of "free" outside air cooling through a waterside economizer operation during night and cool-weather hours, which, along with water storage, allows the chillers to be turned off more than 75% of the time
  • Extreme precision in managing cooling distribution for cold air containment pods with variable-speed fans controlled to exactly match airflow to server requirements from moment to moment
  • Power distributed at higher voltages, which increases efficiency by reducing power loss
  • White cool-roof design to provide maximum solar reflectivity
  • Real-time power monitoring and analytics during operations

Greenpeace, which last year placed Apple at the bottom of the list for its industry because of its "dirty" data centers in "How Dirty is Your Data Center, didn’t even rate Apple in its recent Cool IT Leaderboard," because "it hasn’t demonstrated leadership or elected to pursue market opportunities to drive IT energy solutions that many of its competitors have, despite record profits and large cash reserves."

Apple’s turnabout to 100% renewables comes after Greenpeace pointed out that its North Carolina data center could consume up to 100 MW of power, most of which would still come from coal plants.

For its part, Apple says only 2% of total greenhouse gas emissions comes from corporate facilities. The vast majority is produced by manufacturing, transporting and use of its products made in the now infamous Foxconn in China.

Apple says all three of its US data centers will run solely on renewables, including its next ones in Prineville, Oregon and Newark, California. Its goal is to achieve net zero energy for corporate facilities worldwide – its facilities in Cork, Ireland, Munich, Germany, Austin, Texas, and Sacramento, California run 100% on renewable energy, they say.

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  1. Eny

    It would be greatly aptirceaped if you could speak to Wave Energy Development, the different technologies, different environmental impacts they may have. Recently in my Oregon community, Marine Park Reserve proposals were voted down by a super-majority. This is not as black and white as it seems. Yes, it is a perceived threat to our battered and bruised rural economy with an embedded history of resource extraction. And yes, there is that perceived impact upon commercial or charter fishing business owners (our Dungeness Crab fishery gained the sustainable fisheries designation last year). But foremost I am presuming this has much to do with a history of MRP zoning policiies and the effects they might have upon the seven different wave technology companies presently courting Oregon communities such as ours. A friend recently turned me on to your research and writing. Thank you for the insightful blog.


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