Apple discloses more details on green data center plan

Renewable energy technology constructed by Apple will contribute about 60 percent of the power needed by its facility in Maiden, N.C.
Written by Heather Clancy, Contributor

First things first: While I was off diving in Bonaire last week, Apple disclosed that it is going greener with its data center electricity sourcing.

By the end of 2012, the company hopes to power its data center in Maiden, N.C., entirely from renewable energy sources. That amounts to 20 megawatts of electricity draw at full capacity.

Apple's on-site installations will include two solar arrays: the first, 100-acre 20-megawatt installation is being built on the same site as the data center. It will produce approximately 42 million kilowatt-hours of electricity annually. The second 100-acre site, located a few miles from the data center's location, will be configured to produce about the same amount of energy per year.

Apple also is building a 5-megawatt fuel cell installation using technology from Bloom Energy. That installation, also scheduled to come online in late 2012, is designed to produce another 40 million kilowatt-hours annually. The fuel cells will generate their electricity using biogas.

All in all, approximately 60 percent of the data center's power needs will be handled by these renewable energy technology investments -- which Apple says represent "a scale of online renewable energy production that no other company has matched." The rest of the clean electricity will come through sourcing arrangements with local and regional clean energy sources, Apple said.

An aggressive public relations campaign by Greenpeace may have forced Apple to disclose this earlier than originally planned, but it is clear that this initiative has been in the works for some time. Seriously, there is so much involved in planning this sort of thing, that is definitely was not in reaction to Greenpeace.

The non-governmental organization continues to push Apple -- another other big IT companies that are building out cloud operations, including Microsoft and Amazon -- to adopt more formal renewable energy sourcing strategies.

In a statement, Greenpeace senior IT analyst Gary Cook said:

"Greenpeace and Apple's customers look forward to hearing more detail about how Apple plans to fulfill its commitment to renewable energy for its North Carolina and Oregon data centers. Apple is still one of Duke Energy's largest customers, and will have to demand Duke provide the clean energy it needs to legitimately claim the iCloud is 100 percent powered by renewable energy."

Apple actually intends to be more transparent about its usage habits, according to its environmental strategy Web site. It notes:

"We want to ensure that our efforts to use renewable energy transparent and that everyone can follow our progress. That's why Apple will register the renewable energy generated by our solar arrays and fuel cell installations with the North Carolina Renewable Energy Tracking System (NC-RETS) established by the North Carolina Utilities Commission."

Incidentally, Apple is also taking extensive energy-efficiency measures in the Maiden facility in order to minimize its electricity draw. Those include the following design elements:

  • A chilled water storage system that can help improve chiller efficiency; roughly 10,400 kilowatt-hours of consumption will be shifted to off peak hours because of this
  • Free air cooling, which will handle the data center's cooling needs about 75 percent of the time (especially at night and during cool weather)
  • Variable speed fans
  • Power distribution systems that spread electricity around at higher voltages, which minimizes losses that occur during conversions
  • A white cool-roof design
  • LED lighting and motion sensors

Elsewhere, Apple is updating is sourcing relationships in order to shift more to clean power. For example, it hopes to be using renewable energy at its Newark, Calif., data center by February 2013. It also is promising that its new data center in Prineville, Ore., will be "as environmentally responsible as our Maiden data center."

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