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Apple Facilities Report: ‘Biggest On-Site Fuel Cell’ Planned for N.C. Data Center

Apple is building the largest non-utility fuel cell installation in the country, the company has announced in its 2012 facilities report.

The 5 MW system at Apple’s Maiden, N.C. data center will be powered entirely by biogas and will generate over 40 million kWh a year.

As previously reported, Apple is building a solar array on land surrounding the data center, and the report reveals the system to be a massive 20 MW. It says that when completed, the 100-acre system will supply 42 million kWh a year. And Apple says it is committed to increasing renewable energy investments to match the data center’s needs as it grows.

The data center, which opened last year, has achieved LEED platinum status. Apple says it knows of no other data center its size that has achieved the standard.

The report addresses the environmental impact of Apple’s worldwide facilities, including retail stores, research and development facilities, data centers and corporate operations. The company does not produce an annual sustainability report for all metrics across all its supply chain, but says it has reported the full life-cycle GHG emissions of each of its products since 2006.

Since Apple outsources its manufacturing, its own facilities represent only two percent of its assessed GHG emissions, with the rest coming from production, transport, use and recycling of products.

For the facilities report, Apple says it considered the Global Reporting Initiative Sustainability Reporting Guidelines (G3.1), although it did not report a GRI level or have the report level-checked. The emissions data were third-party verified by Bureau Veritas (BV).

The company has a goal of net zero energy consumption for its corporate facilities worldwide, defined as all non–retail store buildings, including offices and data centers. It has been buying renewable energy for over ten years, and says facilities in Cork, Ireland; Munich, Germany; Austin, Texas; and Elk Grove, California are all using 100 percent renewable energy resources. These facilities consume 54 million kWh of electricity a year, or 11 percent of Apple’s worldwide facility-related consumption.

Across its worldwide facilities in 2011, Apple used 493 million kWh of electricity and 3 million therms of natural gas. Electricity usage in 2011 was up slightly on 2010 levels, at between 8 and 9 MWh/employee, and natural gas use and GHG emissions per employee fell dramatically – though, with each, the numbers are hard to quantify because Apple did not label the data points on the reports’ charts.

In 2011, Apple says it achieved 5 million kWh in energy savings through energy efficiency and conservation activities at several of its Cupertino, Calif., facilities. It says it will continue to expand this program to include campus-wide energy audits, use of reflective window and roof coatings, installation of induction-based lighting fixtures with bilevel controls, and installation and optimization of intelligent control systems that vary ventilation and cooling according to weather conditions.

At Cork, a solar thermal water heater displaces almost 100 percent of water-heating needs – a success that Apple says it is looking to replicate.

A 500 kW biogas-powered fuel cell at its Cupertino facilities helps avoid more than 1.2 million kg of CO2e, and the company says regulatory clearance for the purchase of offsite renewables there and in the Santa Clara Valley has paved to way to make those facilities 100 percent renewable.

The Maiden, N.C. data center includes a chilled water storage system that transfers 10,400 kWh of electricity consumption from peak to off-peak hours each day, and a waterside economizer that uses outside air to cool the facility. Together these allow chillers to be turned off more than 75 percent of the time. The cooling system re-uses the same water 35 times, cutting overall water consumption by 20 percent, and also uses rainwater for onsite landscape irrigation.

The company says the data center is also extremely precise in how it manages cooling distribution, with variable-speed fans matching air flow to server requirements from moment to moment. Its power is distributed at higher voltages to reduce power loss, and the center uses real-time power monitoring and analytics.

It has a white cool-roof design, LED lighting and motion sensors. Its construction used 14 percent recycled materials, diverted 93 percent of waste from landfills, and sourced 41 percent of materials within a 500-mile radius.

GHG emissions from employee travel last year fell from just over to just under three metric tons of CO2 per employee. In fiscal 2011, total emissions from employee commuting, fleet vehicles, and air travel were 161,000 metric tons of CO2e.

More than half of Apple’s fleet vehicles are hybrids and its European fleet program set emissions emissions standards of under 165g CO2e/km for every vehicle. To reduce air travel, the company has installed teleconferencing equipment at all its major facilities.

Apple provides employees incentives for biking, using public transportation, and carpooling. Over 1,100 staff a day ride Apple’s free biodiesel commute buses, and the company provides electric vehicle charging stations to employees, free of charge.

Apple says its operations are not water intensive, and its facilities use water mostly for sanitary and landscape purposes. In FY11, it used 1 million cubic meters of water. Weather- and soil moisture-based irrigation systems at facilities in Austin and Cupertino reduced landscape water consumption by 40 percent, the company says.

Apple generated 2,400 metric tons of solid waste in 2011, including 14 metric tons of hazardous waste, and recycled 5,700 metric tons of material as part of its everyday operations. It also offered and participated in take-back programs in 95 percent of the regions where Apple products are sold.

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