Advanced Computing in the Age of AI | Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Apple Plans 20MW Solar Farm to Power Reno Datacenter 

Apple Inc., once criticized as a wasteful energy consumer, now has its sights set on creating a renewable energy empire.

Apple Inc., once criticized as a wasteful electricity consumer, now has its sights set on creating a renewable energy empire. As part of its commitment to green energy sources, the company is constructing a 137-acre solar farm for its new Reno, Nevada-based datacenter.

Powered by NV Energy Inc., the solar farm will provide power for Internet traffic, mobile device content, and enterprise hosting services. This workload includes the common applications that most of us use on a daily basis: iTunes, photos, movies, and e-mails.

NV Energy CEO Michael Yackira stated, "We're excited to be in partnership with Apple on a new solar energy project, the first project under our new Green Energy Program. This program allows customers such as Apple to choose to have a greater proportion of their energy coming from renewables than the law requires, without having a cost impact on our other customers."

Apple is no stranger to solar. Apple's largest datacenter, located in Maiden, North Carolina, is sun- (and fuel cell-) powered. Apple is in the process of building two 20 MW solar farms to generate electricity for that site, which will boost its total power capability to 167 million kilowatt-hours annually, enough to power the equivalent of 17,600 homes for one year. (It's still only about 60 percent of the total energy needed to run the Maiden facility; Apple contracts with local energy company Duke to make up the difference.)

Apple's newest solar farm in Nevada will be roughly the same size as the ones in NC. These farms generate 18 to 20 MW worth of power, which, for an independent Internet company, is a very large solar system. In a statement, Apple said that once complete, the solar array would generate 43.5 million kilowatt hours of clean energy each year.

The Nevada solar photovoltaic array will have a technical edge on its NC counterparts, however. Apple is planning on employing a new type of technology that will increase the power generated. This will be achieved by adding mirrors that will focus the sun's rays on to the solar panels, intensifying them by up to seven times.

Sunpower, the solar company that helped Apple with their North Carolina farms, will assist once again with the engineering and construction on the new farm in Reno. Until the solar array is built and fully functional, Apple will use geothermal power, which is easily acquired in Reno.

In a statement regarding the project, Apple said, "All of Apple's data centers use 100 percent renewable energy, and we are on track to meet that goal in our new Reno data center using the latest in high-efficiency concentrating solar panels. This project will not only supply renewable energy for our data center but also provide clean energy to the local power grid, through a first-of-its-kind partnership with NV Energy. When completed, the 137 acre solar array will generate approximately 43.5 million kilowatt hours of clean energy, equivalent to taking 6,400 passenger vehicles off the road per year."

Greenpeace, which keeps close tabs on all the big datcenter operators, was complimentary to the project. "Apple's investment in solar energy shows that the company is making good on the promise it made last year to power its iCloud with 100% renewable energy. The detailed disclosure that Apple gave today should give confidence to Apple's millions of users that the company is powering its corner of the Internet with clean energy," the environmental group shared.

Greenpeace took the opportunity to single out Microsoft and Amazon for still using "dirty electricity."

"With Google, Facebook, and now Apple all announcing major new deals with utilities in recent months for new renewable energy to power their data center operations, the race to build an internet powered by renewable energy is clearly in full swing," stated Greenpeace. "Tech companies are showing they have the ability to use their influence and buying power with utilities to change their supply of electricity away from coal and toward renewable energy.

"Microsoft and Amazon – both of which still power their Internet using the dirty electricity that causes global warming – ought to take notice. In the race for a clean Internet, Apple is leaving both companies in the dust."

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