Apple to Build Solar Farm to Power Huge New Data Center

Saturday, July 6th 2013. | Internet News

Environmentalists aren’t complaining about Apple’s policy of using solar energy to power its data centers, but it would be an oversimplification to attribute it to responsiveness to the likes of Greenpeace. “Data centers pull a ton of power,” said tech analyst Rob Enderle. “Building a solar farm makes a lot of financial sense on top of its being green.

Apple, which has a mixed history on environmental issues, will build a solar farm to power its data center in Washoe County, Nev.

“SunPower is working with Apple to design and build this project,” Ingrid Ekstrom, spokesperson for SunPower, told TechNewsWorld. “We will be building a SunPower C7 Tracker system at the site.”

The farm will reportedly generate 20 MW of electricity, some of which will be sold to Sierra Pacific Power Co., a utility operating in Nevada doing business as NV Energy.

What’s Happening in Washoe County

Apple is building a large data center in the Reno Technology Park, about 15 minutes east of the city of Reno. An initial building occupying about 20,000 square feet was reportedly completed in March.

That building is on an Apple-owned lot of about 345 acres. When completed, the Reno facility will reportedly be Apple’s fourth-largest data center in the United States.

Apple approached Sierra, aka NV Energy, in 2012 and leased from it 137 acres of land for 20 years for the purpose of building the data center, according to Bobby Hollis, NV Energy’s executive of renewable energy.

The two companies have entered various agreements, including ground and a solar-array leases and a renewable energy agreement, Hollis said. Apple will pay for the installation and construction of the solar array.

About the C7 Tracker

SunPower’s C7 Tracker solar concentrators, which will be used in the solar farm, consist of a horizontal single-axis tracker with rows of parabolic mirrors reflecting light onto solar cells.

The C7 Tracker concentrates the sun’s energy 7 times, Ekstrom said.

The C7 Tracker technology was first commercially deployed at Arizona State University’s Polytechnic campus in Mesa, Ariz., in April.

Apple’s Environmental Efforts

The Reno data center solar farm is part of Apple’s drive to power its facilities 100 percent with renewable energy.

The company has already achieved this at all of its existin gdata centers — its facilities in Austin, Tex.; Elk Grove, Calif.; Cork, Ireland; and Munich. Worldwide, its corporate facilities are 75 percent powered by renewable energy.

Apple’s Been More Brown Than Green

Apple has had a spotty record when it comes to being environmentally conscious, however.

In 2011, a Greenpeace report listed Apple as being the worst environmental offender in the technology industry.

That same year, a the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs in Beijing said Apple’s Chinese suppliers were discharging polluted waste and toxic materials into surrounding communities and threatening public health.

Earlier in 2011, Apple acknowledged that 137 workers at a Chinese factory near the city of Suzhou had been seriously injured by a toxic chemical used in making the iPhone’s glass screens.

In 2012, Apple stopped registering its products in EPEAT, a global environmental rating system for electronic products, then reversed its decision after a public outcry.

EPEAT later revised its rules affecting Apple ultrathin notebooks, drawing fire from Greenpeace.

Apple did not respond to our request to comment for this story.

Why Apple’s Playing Nice

Considering Cupertino’s environmental efforts as an attempt to regain some of its lost credibility among environmentalists disregards the bigger picture, which is that data centers will perhaps not get enough power in a world where power consumption is increasing by leaps and bounds.

Apple isn’t the only company to look toward clean power; eBay is expanding its flagship data center in Utah and will use renewable energy to power that addition. This will be the company’s fifth and largest renewable energy installation. Google also supports renewable energy sources, through Google Green.

These moves followed reports in 2008 that data centers would face a power shortage by 2011, leading companies to redesign their data centers, vendors to unveil more power-efficient servers, and power utilities to offer rebates for reduced power consumption or better-designed data centers.

“Data centers pull a ton of power,” Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group, told TechNewsWorld. “Building a solar farm makes a lot of financial sense on top of its being green. You’ll see a lot of companies doing this.”

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