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Apple Pledges Renewable-Powered Data Centers

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It looks like Apple is getting the final word in its spat with Greenpeace over the use of coal for its data centers.

Apple announced that its Maiden, N.C. cloud data center will be completely powered by renewable energy by year’s end. The renewables of choice? Solar and fuel cells.

According to Apple, the company is building two solar farms. Sitting on 100 acres, an onsite, 20-megawatt installation will generate 42 million kilowatt-hours (kWH) of energy annually. Its twin will be located a few miles from the data center and will generate another 42 million kWH per year. Both will use photovoltaic panels from SunPower with solar tracking systems that follow the sun to maximize the solar energy they absorb.

Plans also call for biogas fuel cells from Bloom Energy to augment Apple’s solar plants later this year.

A 5-megawatt (MW) system will generate over 40 million kWh of each year. The fuel cells, called Bloom Energy Servers, made a splashy debut in 2010 after Bloom spent 10 long years in stealth and a hefty $400 million dollars in venture funding. The technology is a source of clean energy for other tech companies including eBay and Google.

All told, Apple will generate 124 million kWh per year of onsite renewable power for its Maiden data center, enough for 10,874 homes, according to the company.

Apple Kicks Coal

When it comes to powering its data centers, Apple is going all in on renewable energy, says Peter Oppenheimer, CFO. “I’m not aware of any other company producing energy onsite at this scale,” he tells Reuters, adding that its solar is twice as big as his company announced earlier.

At full capacity, Apple estimates that the Maiden, NC data center will draw about 20 MW of power. Sixty percent of that power will be generated onsite. The rest will be purchased from local and regional renewable energy producers.

And Apple’s appetite for renewable energy doesn’t stop at the Maiden data center.

The company also announced that its Newark, Calif. data center is on track to meet its 100 percent clean energy goal by February 2013 via renewable energy purchases. Apple is working with two utilities near its new Prineville, Ore. build to completely power the facility using a mix of wind, hydro and geothermal sources.

Apple is taking the opportunity address another of Greenpeace’s criticisms, namely a lack of transparency. In addition to providing details on the facility’s energy use and sourcing, Apple is registering with the North Carolina Renewable Energy Tracking System to monitor the company’s progress on meeting its clean energy goals.

That spirit of openness also provides a somewhat clearer picture of Apple’s data center energy efficiency strategy.

The normally secretive technology company revealed that the Maiden facility is employing free cooling, cold air containment, airflow management and high-efficiency chillers backed by a cold water storage system. A white roof further helps keep things cool by bouncing back the sun’s rays. Other energy-saving features include real-time energy monitoring, a high-voltage power distribution system and motion sensor triggered LED lighting.

Pedro Hernandez is a contributing editor at, the news service of the IT Business Edge Network, the network for technology professionals. Follow him on Twitter @ecoINSITE.

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