Apple to build 20MW solar farm at North Carolina data centre

21 Feb 2012

Apple data centre in Maiden, North Carolina. Image courtesy of the Apple Facilities Report. See:

In its latest environmental report, Apple has revealed how it is planning to build a 100-acre solar farm around its data centre in Maiden, North Carolina. Apple is also building a fuel cell installation powered by biogas at the site.

In 2011, Apple commissioned the North Carolina data centre, which already has taken on some energy efficiencies, such as a white cool-roof that was designed to provide maximum solar reflectivity.

The Facilities Report is one of the first times that Apple has given some definitive statistics on how it powers up its data centres.

In early February, Greenpeace omitted Apple from its Cool IT Leaderboard, which pitches IT giants against each other for how they are using their IT prowess to tackle climate change and influence the push toward clean-energy solutions. Apple and Facebook were not included in the leaderboard. Greenpeace said at the time that Apple was not included because its efforts did not meet the leaderboard criteria.

Incidentally, Google came out tops in the Greenpeace Leaderboard based on its clean-energy leadership, followed by Cisco and Ericsson.

Apple’s energy revelations

Now Apple has revealed that “as much as 98pc of our total emissions comes from the greenhouse gas (GHG) emitted from the production, transport, use, and recycling of products”.

Apple also said corporate facilities represent 2pc of its total GHG emissions.

In the report, Apple said it has set itself a “net zero goal” for its corporate facilities. At its Cupertino, California, site, for instance, Apple has already installed a 500-kilowatt biogas-powered fuel-cell project to supply cleaner electricity to the site.

100-acre solar array

Regarding the solar farm planned for North Carolina, Apple said it is building the “nation’s largest end-user-owned, on-site solar array” on the land surrounding the data centre.

When the solar farm is up and running, Apple said the 20-megawatt facility will supply 42m kWh of clean, renewable energy annually.

Biogas-powered facility

Apple claimed the fuel cell installation it is building at the site will be the largest non-utility fuel cell installation operating anywhere in the country when it goes line later in the year.

The five-megawatt facility will be based directly beside the data centre. It will be powered by 100pc biogas, said Apple, which is aiming to supply more than 40m kWh of 24 x 7 baseload renewable energy each year from the facility.

In the report, Apple also claims it has been purchasing renewable energy for its facilities all over the world for over 10 years.

Facilities in Cork, Ireland, Munich, Germany, Austin, Texas and Elk Grove, California, are now using “100pc renewable energy resources”.

Apple’s Cork site

In Cork, for instance, Apple said a solar thermal water heater “displaces” almost 100pc of water-heating needs for the staff canteen there.

“Because of this project’s success, we are evaluating the applicability of this type of on-site renewable energy use at other Apple facilities,” Apple adds.

Energy strategies

In its sustainability report, Apple said the first aim is to make sure its facilities are as energy efficient as possible. The second part of its energy strategy, said Apple, is to focus on generating its own clean, renewable energy on-site at its facilities.

“To date, our renewable energy generation has focused on using photovoltaics, fuel cells, and other appropriate technologies,” said the company in the report.

And the third element of Apple’s energy strategy is to “meet our remaining energy needs with clean, renewable energy generated offsite”, according to the report.
“The benefits of supporting off-site generation include renewable energy development in locations where renewable resources are plentiful (for example, wind corridors, solar hot spots) and expanding the renewable energy available from local energy suppliers,” said Apple.

Carmel Doyle was a long-time reporter with Silicon Republic