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Apple preps solar power farm for North Carolina datacenter

updated 11:20 pm EDT, Tue October 25, 2011

Apple datacenter to go green

Apple's North Carolina datacenter may soon get some of its power from green sources, a search through local permits has uncovered. The proposal found by the Charlotte Observer would have some of the 171 acres of unused area across the street from the Maiden-based plant, at 6028 Startown Road, used to set up a solar power farm. Nicknamed "Project Dolphin Solar Farm A Expanded," most details are unknown other than that Apple had to file an erosion control permit (PDF) to promise it wouldn't pollute the nearby area.

Project Dolphin was the name for the in-development datacenter.

Apple has made a point of having eco-friendly locations, such as those in Austin and Sacramento in the US and Cork in Ireland. Until now, however, the datacenter was relying entirely on power from Duke Energy in the area, for whom only a small amount of its power comes from solar. Installing its own power has some self-interest: by establishing its own power source, it can keep the datacenter partly powered in the event of a blackout.

The Maiden location is considered vital for Apple as it handles iTunes and iCloud features for much of North America, if not the world. It may also provide the backend processing of Siri questions, which use Nuance's cloud voice services to run.

Several of Apple's peers have gone to extra lengths to use solar or other forms of renewable energy. AT&T, Google, and others are using Bloom Energy Servers to make the most use of their power sources through reserves. Facebook went so far as to design its Open Computing Project servers, which are about 38 percent more power efficient than usual and make it easier to power a datacenter with green sources.

Apple datacenter at 5977 Startown; 6028 Startown (solar plant) is the forested area directly opposite

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By Electronista Staff


  1. SockRolid

    Forum Regular

    Joined: Jan 2010


    Apple has a fuel cell patent

    I wonder if Apple's fuel cell patent can be scaled up into a Bloom Box-like facility power system. Electronista's article makes it look like a portable device power source:

  1. The Vicar

    Junior Member

    Joined: Jul 2009


    Would be largely irrelevant to this story

    Fuel cell technology is for storing power, not generating it. You'd still have to get the energy from somewhere, and it wouldn't be green unless you got it from a renewable source like solar or wind. (And switching to fuel cells without needing to do so can actually be bad for the environment overall; since nothing is 100% efficient, you lose power to make the fuel for the cells, which may end up causing more pollution than you would get if you just plugged into the grid.)

    (Why are there apparently no plans to build Concentrating Solar Power stations in the U.S.? West Texas and Nevada would be perfect places for them. And although they're expensive, the modern ones last basically forever as far as anyone can tell.)

  1. Makosuke

    Forum Regular

    Joined: Aug 2001



    You wonder if this is simple "thinking green" or if it's a long-term hedge against increasing energy costs. Given the potential for not just higher, but MUCH higher energy costs, it would be interesting if by investing some of its buckets of money right now in generation they're positioned better ten or twenty years down the road when other data centers are starving for power.

    Not necessarily betting on them thinking that far ahead, but it's an interesting thought. (And actually, if I were in a similar position, I'd have chosen somewhere with a good wind resource to build my datacenter then put an oversized wind farm right next to it. Those are nearly competitive at current energy costs, let alone a possibly much higher future and/or with fixed costs versus rapid inflation leading to larger dollar prices on energy.)

    Also, while portable fuel cell tech has nothing to do with this, fuel cells in general could theoretically be relevant to a large PV array. Currently grid-tie PV is the only thing that makes any kind of economic (or even energy-payback) sense, but in a long-term future fuel cells fed by hydrogen from a PV power plant may well be one component of an energy grid.

  1. facebook_Charlie

    Via Facebook

    Joined: Oct 2011


    To the Greenies

    Growing trees and burning them as fuel to generate electricity is more "green." Solar panels require more energy, with associated heat generation, to manufacture than they will generate in their lifetime. Always consider where the wall plug is (an old thermodynamic saying), Besides tree are more beautiful.

  1. solarmac

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: Oct 2011


    NC - solar hot bed

    Yes great publicity, but honestly NC is a solar hot bed, and large projects are going up all over the state. A generous state tax credit, drastically less expensive PV system costs, and federal credit and depreciation make solar a fantastic financial investment, especially in NC.

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