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Published on February 24th, 2015 | by Tina Casey

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Apple Data Center Announcement Hints At New Wind Energy Storage System

February 24th, 2015 by  



The intertubes were abuzz yesterday with news that Apple is dropping a cool €1.7 billion to build two new data centers in Ireland and Denmark, each run entirely on renewable energy. While the company’s press release was a bit thin on detail, Apple VP of Environmental Initiatives Lisa Jackson noted that “strong wind resources” in both countries were a key consideration.

But, that’s not what caught our eye. The new Apple data center announcement includes a hint from CEO Tim Cook that the two facilities will introduce “some of our most advanced green building designs yet,” and that got us to thinking about Apple’s patent application for an innovative wind energy storage system.

Apple data centers wind farms

Photo credit: Courtesy of Apple®.

New Green Data Centers For Apple

To be more specific, the Apple press release indicates that by the time the two facilities are up and running in 2017, there will be enough renewable energy on hand to power them both from “day one.”

Denmark is a world leader in wind energy, so we wouldn’t be surprised if Apple is already looking forward to 100 percent wind for its new data center in that country (in one highlight last year, wind provided more than half of the country’s entire electricity for a month).

Ireland has also been coming on strong in the wind sector, so the prospects for an all-wind data center look pretty good there, too.

For that matter, Apple notes that its new data center in Ireland will be located in Athenry, home of the medium and micro wind turbine manufacturer C&F Green Energy. The company has been working to ramp up Ireland’s home grown wind turbine industry with the support of Enterprise Ireland, the country’s economic development agency.

The key element of course is wind energy storage, on a scale large enough to keep Apple’s data centers humming away even in the doldrums.

Wind Energy And Energy Storage

That leads us right around to that thing that interested us so much. Tucked away in the middle of the Apple press release is a mention that “Apple will also work with local partners to develop additional renewable energy projects from wind or other sources to provide power in the future.”

This is just a wild guess — like totally a wild guess — but back in 2013, CleanTechnica noticed that Apple was designing a new wind energy storage concept, complete with a patent application.

Here’s how our colleague Nicholas Brown describes it: “Apple’s wind energy storage concept involves using a wind turbine to rotate a shaft that turns a device that has one or more paddles, a propeller, or a drum attached to it and immersed in a volatile fluid.”

If you want more details you can wade through the entire patent application, but for those of you on the go here’s a snippet (breaks added for readability):

Once sufficient heat is transferred to working fluid, the heat may be used to generate electricity. In particular, the heat may boil working fluid (e.g., due to the low boiling point of working fluid), generating vapor that is used to rotate a turbine.

Turbine may then be used to drive an electric generator that supplies electricity to a load, such as a motor vehicle, home, business, building, and/or electrical grid.

So far Apple is best known for its affinity with solar energy, most lately evidenced by its partnership with First Solar on the massive new California Flats Solar Project solar farm.

On the other hand, Apple is also becoming known for its imaginative use of renewable energy, in particular the combination of solar, fuel cells, and biogas offset at play for its data center in Maiden, North Carolina.

We’re also thinking that Apple is drawing closer to wind energy due to its experience in marketing the  iPad for wind industry applications, as illustrated by the image above.

Here’s Apple waxing enthusiastically on the relationship, focusing on a Siemens wind project:

…[it] streamlines their workflow, allowing them to take photos, email questions, and troubleshoot on the spot. And it lets them track fast-moving weather and quickly adjust their work in the field.

Siemens wind service technicians also provide valuable feedback from the field, where they work on both onshore and offshore wind turbines, often in remote locations. The information they collect helps engineers better understand the environment and make improvements to turbine technology.

So, cutting edge wind powered energy storage systems for the newest Apple data centers could be more than just a wild guess.

If you’ve picked up any other hints anywhere else, drop us a note in the comment thread.

More Green Goodies From Apple

For the record, Apple notes that its Athenry data center will include a land recovery and reforestation project with an outdoor education center and walking trail. Its Denmark facility, located in Viborg, will include a waste energy capture system that will provide heat for local residents.

Apple also expects to save big bucks and reduce its carbon footprint in Denmark by planting its new data center right next to one of the largest substations in the country, eliminating the need to build new generators.

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About the Author

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. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.



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