Apple is building what will be the largest private solar arrays and the largest non-utility fuel cell installation operating anywhere in the US. The renewable power will feed into the company’s $1bn data centre in Maiden, North Carolina, supplying 60% of the 20 megawatts of power the data centre needs when running at full capacity. Apple says it will be the most environmentally sound data centre ever built.
In and around Maiden the company is building two solar array installations using high-efficiency solar cells and an advanced solar tracking system. A 100-acre, 20-megawatt installation on the same site as our data centre will produce 42m kWh of energy annually. A 100-acre site located a few kilometres away will produce another 42m kWh.
The original plan also included a 5-megawatt fuel cell installation providing more than 40m kWh of renewable energy annually, but last week the company announced that it was doubling the number of fuel cells to 50, providing a total of 10 megawatts of capacity. That makes it the largest non-utility fuel cell installation in the US and brings the total renewable energy to around 164m kWh, which (according to Apple’s calculations) is enough to power the equivalent of 14,282 homes.
Apple says that no other company can match that scale of onsite renewable energy production. The company also says that it wants to be transparent about its efforts to use renewable energy so that everyone can follow its progress, so it will register the renewable energy generated by the solar arrays and fuel cell installations with the North Carolina Renewable Energy Tracking System (NC-RETS) established by the North Carolina Utilities Commission.
Review: Apple does not have a great reputation for the sustainability of its operations – you only have to search this blog to see some of the negative publicity it has received in the last couple of years and the way the company has generally simply ignored any criticism.
The use of renewable energy in this (and other) US data centres may help to redress the balance somewhat, but it would be better if the company could also join with the rest of the industry in addressing sustainability issues, rather than creating waves, as it has done in the past. As good as this renewable energy development is, there is a very small proportion of the world’s data centre capacity that can generate any significant on-site power, so energy efficiency – the main area where the rest of the industry is working together to make a difference - is likely to have a greater influence on IT emissions worldwide.