Apple Datacenter Blooms Green Energy

By Robert Gelber

May 22, 2012

Datacenters are notorious for consuming large quantities of power, prompting their operators to search for efficient practices and renewable energy sources. In Maiden, NC, Apple is building a facility that plans to generate roughly 60 percent of its power onsite. While much of that energy will be sourced from the Sun, Apple will also use biogas from a local landfill to feed an array of fuel cells.

Yesterday, ZDNet detailed Apple’s plan to completely power the Maiden datacenter with renewable energy. On the solar front, the company is building a pair of 20MW, 100-acre solar arrays. The first array will reside onsite, while the second one will be located a few miles away from the facility. Together, they are expected to produce 84 million kWh each year.

The datacenter’s most interesting source of energy actually comes from methane emissions generated by garbage. Taking a page out of Back to the Future Part 2, Apple will process the gas from a local landfill and feed it to an array of Bloom Energy Servers. The energy servers are filled with fuel cells, which convert natural gas into electricity through an electro-chemical process instead of combustion. These devices are set to generate 5MW, amounting to an additional 40 million kWh annually.

Apple points out that the Maiden datacenter will generate 124 million kWh annually through renewable resources. The number is impressive, comparable to powering more than 10,000 homes. Nevertheless, the energy produced will only cover 60 percent of power consumed by the facility. For the remaining forty percent, Apple will purchase local clean energy. They say this will encourage the region’s investment in wind, solar and biogas providers.

Beyond ensuring that all power consumed by the datacenter is renewable, the company has focused on energy-efficient design. Apple detailed a number of efficiency practices on their website. Some of the more unique designs include painting the facility’s roof white, increasing solar reflectivity and distributing power at higher voltages to reduce power loss. The sum of these design elements has earned the Maiden facility a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Platinum certification.

Looking forward, Apple will be building another datacenter in Prineville, Oregon. The new facility is also set to run on 100 percent renewable energy generated from wind, hydro and geothermal power.

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