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IBM Surges Past Facebook and Apple in Solar Power Race

ibm, facebook, apple and other tech companies invest in solarIt’s game on for solar power among tech giants like IBM, Facebook, and Apple, and the advanced clean energy investments of these global moneymakers could have some interesting implications for the 2012 presidential contest. Among the recent news, IBM’s new rooftop solar array for its India Software Lab in Bangalore wins out for innovation, with Facebook’s unique hybrid solar plant at its Menlo Park campus giving it a run for the money, and Apple’s unannounced plans for a giant solar farm in North Carolina coming up close behind.

IBM’s Energy Efficient Solar Array

The sun may be free, but energy efficiency is still a crucial factor when companies invest their energy dollars in commercial solar arrays. IBM’s first-of-its kind solar system tackles one part of the problem, which is the loss of power that occurs when the DC (direct current) generated by photovoltaic panels is converted to AC (alternating current). To cut down on that loss, the company’s new solar array works in tandem with high voltage DC servers and water cooling systems instead of conventional AC-powered equipment.

Facebook Likes Solar Cogeneration

Facebook’s new solar system also demonstrates how innovative companies are squeezing solar energy for greater efficiency. Apparently its Menlo Park campus will be the first corporate campus to use a new solar cogeneration system engineered by the company Cogenra Solar. Aside from electricity from photovoltaic panels  the system also generates hot water, an important consideration for corporate campuses with a high population of hot water-using employees – especially when an onsite gym is involved (the system will, in fact, directly supply Facebook’s onsite fitness center). Cogenra estimates that its dual system can generate five times the energy of standalone systems.

Apple Digs Solar Power

Apple’s stealth move into solar was recently uncovered by the Charlotte Observer, which noted that although no formal announcement has been made yet, the company had received permits to do some substantial earth-moving in preparation for a solar farm in  North Carolina. This comes on the heels of other forays into clean energy by Apple, and the company is also joining a trend by tech manufacturers to incorporate solar power into products, with its recently announced patent for a solar powered iPod.

Google, Yahoo Pushing Back against Fossil Fuels

As major tech companies ramp up their commitment to alternative energy, they are also pulling back from what should be their go-to international lobbying organization in support of their energy priorities, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Cleantechnica has previously noted the distance that tech companies like Apple and Microsoft have put between themselves and the Chamber, primarily due to its intense lobbying on behalf of the fossil fuel industry. Think Progress now reports that more than 50 local chambers of commerce and major corporations have quit the national Chamber. Most recently, Yahoo “quietly left” last month over other issues, and Google has also indicated its frustration with the Chamber’s legislative priorities.

Clean Energy and the 2012 Elections

That sets up quite an interesting campaign finance scenario for the 2012 elections. For the past three years, President Obama’s clean energy initiatives have been laying the groundwork for tech industry support, by creating thousands of new green jobs while helping tech companies invest in a renewable energy future that is less vulnerable to supply disruptions and more insulated against price spikes. Just a few examples are the new SunShot initiative designed to bring the cost of renewable energy down to an even level with fossil fuels, biogas and biofuel initiatives, and a brownfields-to-clean energy program focused on urban renewal. With that in mind it’s little wonder that Bloomberg News is reporting that high tech companies are flocking to donate to Obama’s 2012 election bid. Whether that will be enough to counterbalance the millions in fossil fuel money flowing into the opposing party’s campaign chest remains to be seen.

Image credit: Some rights reserved by AutomaticDefence.

Twitter: @TinaMCasey


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Tina specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Spoutible.


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