Apple’s Data Centers Now 100 Percent Green

Apple’s data centers are now completely powered by renewable energy, according to Apple.

The iCloud maker operates data centers in the Bay Area and Maiden, North Carolina, and on Thursday, it announced that both are 100 percent green — though the truth is more complicated.

Two months ago, Apple started powering the California data center with nothing but renewable energy it’s buying through the wholesale market. Most of this is wind power. But in Maiden, North Carolina, things are a little different. Apple says it’s buying some of its energy there and then offsetting that by also purchasing renewable energy credits, which are sold by green-energy providers such as wind farms and solar arrays. In buying them, Apple is sponsoring the creation of renewable energy, without actually buying the power itself.

This lets Apple buy electricity from Duke Energy — a power company that mostly uses coal and nuclear power — and simultaneously claim that it has “achieved 100 percent renewable energy,” as it did on its website. Apple representatives didn’t respond to a request for comment.

But the interesting story at Maiden is the great lengths that Apple is going to in an effort to create its own sources of green power. It’s building two massive solar arrays nearby, and it has also built a 10-megawatt fuel cell plant, which it bills as “the largest non-utility fuel cell installation operating anywhere in the country.”

Apple built the first half of this fuel cell plant last year and then — unbeknownst to Maiden-watchers such as ourselves — doubled its firepower in January. A second 20-megawatt array is going to come online by year’s end, Apple says.

The first solar array is already online. Its maximum, sunny day capacity is 20 megawatts, but it probably averages about a third of that when in regular operation.

Maiden’s power generating capabilities are remarkable, but Apple is going to face some tough power-sourcing questions as it continues to grow the facility. Will it stick to renewable energy credits as it ramps up capacity? Or will it be more creative as it looks for more sources of power? “They’ve probably maxed out what they can generate on site, and so they’re going to buy more and more from the grid as they grow,” says Gary Cook, an analyst with Greenpeace.

Apple has built a 500,000-square-foot data center on its Maiden site, but it’s expected to build another data center onsite as its iCloud grows.

Last year, Apple said its own facilities were going to “provide over 60 percent of the clean power we need” at Maiden. That claim has now been removed from the company’s website.

Apple Chief Financial Officer Peter Oppenheimer told Bloomberg Thursday that the power Apple is using in North Carolina, “is 100 percent renewable and zero percent coal.”

“We expect our data center load to grow, so our work is not yet done,” Apple said in a report on its green efforts.

The company is also building new facilities in Prineville, Oregon, and Reno, Nevada. In Oregon, it will buy renewable energy directly from wind, solar, and what it calls “micro-hydro” sources (that’s power generated by water in irrigation canals).

In Reno, Apple’s going for solar and geothermal power, the company said.

Apple has made some real progress with its energy plans, and Google has already made similar green power commitments, Greenpeace’s Cook says. But another major data center operator, Amazon, has not. “We’d like to see more companies doing what Google has done and what Apple is trying to do and green the grid as they grow.”
By Robert McMillan

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