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Apple Quietly Plans Solar Array for $1bn Data Center

Apple is quietly planning a solar farm near its newly opened, $1 billion Project Dolphin data center in Maiden, N.C., according to news reports.

The Charlotte Observer says that the county has approved permits for Apple to reshape about 171 acres of vacant land that it owns across from the data center, for the purpose of building a solar array. The permits don’t offer any details about the solar plant itself.

The company had been keeping mum on the plans – with even the Catawba County economic development chief, who helped bring Apple to Maiden, first hearing about the solar plant from reporters.

The Miami Herald said work to prepare the land for construction has already started, angering some residents. Apple contractors are burning brush, and neighbors said smoke and ash are drifting across their properties 24 hours a day.

Project Dolphin opened this spring. At 500,000 square feet, it is five times the size of Apple’s data center in Newark, Calif., and helps support the company’s iCloud service.

Greenpeace had criticized Apple for locating the data center in North Carolina, whose electricity mix is 61 percent coal and 31 percent nuclear, and less than five percent “clean energy.” In April the company got the worst ratings in a Greenpeace report, How Dirty is Your Data?, which compared ten major IT companies. The non-profit said the North Carolina data center will consume as much as 100 MW of electricity, or the equivalent of 80,000 U.S. homes.

Apple’s solar plans can be viewed on the Apple Insider blog.

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6 thoughts on “Apple Quietly Plans Solar Array for $1bn Data Center

  1. It will be interesting to see how Greenpeace will ultimately respond to the PV system. No doubt they will investigate the total life-cycle net C02 reduction of the proposed array versus the net CO2 uptake of a sustainable forest ecosystem. Such an ecosystem would allow for selected logging and/or brush harvesting thereby enabling a biomass or bio-fuels power plant yielding yet another new CO2 free energy source.

    Odds are that Apple is not going to come out of this very well unless they limit their PV infrastructure to the massive building, real-estate setback, and infrastructure area. That alone would likely produce 10MW without destroying any of the surrounding area.

  2. To bad that Apple does not take an open approach as regards environmental performance. They could gain a great benefit from increased disclosure(assuming the end result has taken into consideration all the environmental impacts) and in the process push to become a environmental leader rather than a laggard.

  3. If we assume that we can get 200Watts from 12 square feet, then the existing roof area would support 8.3MW during full-on sunshine. This is the least that Apple can do to mitigate the lost NPP (net primary productivity) of the virgin land that they used.

  4. NREL data for the NC area where Apple is building indicate an annualized solar intensity equal to appx 5 kWh/day/m2. That is energy delivered to the PV array. Apple will likely go low to medium cost in that area. Giving them the benefit of 16% net conversion efficiency, ex-inverter output, the 500,000 sq ft rooftop will deliver on the order of 3.7 MW/day.

    Apple need not produce the full 100MW from PV as the sun doesn’t shine at night! Any claim they make that they will run 100% solar will be easily refuted until the can show on-site energy storage and NO utility connection.

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