Apple’s iCloud Data Center to Use Only Solar Power

Apple, a recent target of Greenpeace for its reliance on coal energy to power its data centers, is making a push to bring renewable and environmentally friendly resources to its facilities.

Apple officials said on the company’s Website that by the end of the year, its 500,000-square-foot data center in Maiden, N.C.—which powers the vendor’s iCloud service—will be powered entirely by renewable resources, including a combination of solar power and bio-gas-powered fuel cells.

And the green IT effort will expand to Apple’s existing data center in Newark, Calif., and the one the company is building in Prineville, Ore., and builds off of what Apple already has done at other facilities around the world, officials said in the lengthy posting outlining their plans in North Carolina.

And none of the data centers will be powered by coal-generated energy, Apple CFO Peter Oppenheimer told several news outlets.

Apple’s announcement comes a month after Greenpeace, in a report entitled “How Green Is Your Cloud,” criticized Apple for lagging behind other tech giants, like Google and Facebook, due to its use of coal-generated power. In conjunction with the release of the report, Greenpeace also staged protests over the past few weeks at Apple sites around the world, including the company’s corporate headquarters in Cupertino, Calif., and its European headquarters in Cork, Ireland.

In a May 18 post on the organization’s blog, Greenpeace analyst Peter Cook applauded Apple’s efforts at its North Carolina facility and others, but pushed the tech giant to do more.

“The announcement is a great sign that Apple is taking seriously the hundreds of thousands of its customers who have asked for an iCloud powered by clean energy, not dirty coal,” Cook wrote. “However, there’s still so much more to be done, and we think that Apple can go all the way. Apple’s doubling of its solar capacity and investment in local renewable energy are key steps to creating a cleaner iCloud, but Greenpeace supporters and Apple’s customers still look forward to hearing details about how Apple plans to fulfill its commitment to renewable energy for its North Carolina and Oregon data centers in the U.S.”

Apple officials last month disputed the findings in the Greenpeace report. Apple’s Oppenheimer would not say how much influence the Greenpeace report or demonstrations had in the company’s green IT efforts, though he did say the initiatives have been in the planning stage for more than a year.

Data center power has been a growing concern in the United States for almost a decade, as driven initially by the development of more powerful and smaller servers that has led to increasingly compute-dense facilities. More recently has been the rise of companies like Google, Facebook and Amazon—as well as the expanding businesses of established vendors like Apple and Microsoft—which are building massive data centers to power their Web-based businesses.

Like most enterprises, these businesses are looking for ways to increase the performance of their facilities while driving down power consumption.

According to Apple, the North Carolina data center will draw 20 megawatts of power when running at full capacity, and Apple will meet 60 percent of that demand via onsite energy production. That includes building two solar arrays nearby—a 100-acre installation on the data center grounds that will produce 42 million kilowatt-hours (kWh) of energy every year, and another 100-acre site a few miles away that will produce another 42 kWh. In addition, Apple later this year will bring online a 5-megawatt bio-gas-powered fuel cell installation that will produce more than 40 million kWh of energy.

“While we’ll produce 60 percent of the power used by our Maiden data center on-site, we’ll meet the remaining 40 percent of our energy needs by directly purchasing clean, renewable energy generated by local and regional sources,” the company said.

Other energy-efficient efforts at the North Carolina data center include using a chilled water storage system, using outside air when possible to cool systems, more precise management of the facilities’ cooling systems and using a white cool-roof design to reflect sunlight off the building.

On their Website posting, Apple officials also touted other green IT efforts they’re making in North Carolina, including working with the nonprofit group NC GreenPower to encourage local renewable energy production throughout the state. One project is helping a nearby local landfill generate electricity using waste methane gas.

Globally, the company said that its operations centers in Austin, Texas, Sacramento, Calif., Ireland and Germany all run on 100 percent renewable energy, and this year Apple has begun buying renewable energy for its Northern California facilities, including the Cupertino headquarters.

The Prineville, Ore., data center will run on renewable energy sources—including wind, water and geothermal power from local providers—and Apple is locating sources of clean energy for its Newark, Calif., data center. Officials said they expect to find enough sources to meet all the data center’s power demands by February 2013.