News has slowly been leaking out about renewable energy plans for Apple’s data center in Maiden, North Carolina, and now the whole shebang is up on the Apple website. Apple has confirmed that the gigantic facility will run entirely on renewable energy. When running at full capacity the data center draws a whopping 20 megawatts, so that’s a pretty impressive feat – especially since Apple has declared that it will go 100 percent renewable before the end of the year.
Solar power for Apple
Apple’s website makes it clear that the data center will be “using entirely renewable resources,” which of course doesn’t necessarily mean that all of the energy will be produced on site. Loosely speaking, “using” could also refer to purchasing offsets.
Be that as it may, Apple states that it will be generating about 60 percent of the power on site, partly with two solar installations that will produce about 84 million kilowatt hours annually.
Fuel cells and biogas
The other part of Apple’s on site renewable energy is a huge array of fuel cells, which the company confirms will run on renewable biogas, presumably harvested from landfills or from North Carolina’s booming hog industry.
This is where the definition of “on site” gets a little vague. The fuel cells are located at the data center but the energy needed to run them could be generated by hogs who reside elsewhere (unless the facility has its own in-house hogs, which is doubtful) – however, that’s beside the point.
Wherever the gas is coming from, it is renewable, and Apple states that all of its renewable energy sources are regionally if not locally sourced.
Green jobs and guilt-free iPads
Apple has similar plans for a new data center under construction in Prineville, Oregon, which will have access to enough local wind, hydro and geothermal sources to fill its energy needs.
That’s good news for communities that support the construction of renewable energy infrastructure. They get the benefit of creating green energy jobs while also attracting new employers that are seeking to boost their corporate social responsibility profile.
In that regard, Apple has some catching up to do in the clean energy race (Google is dabbling in hog biogas, too, by the way), but it has been ramping up its efforts, and it is also beginning to tackle other social responsibility issues regarding its overseas labor and supply chain.
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Tina Casey specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. You can also follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.