Katie Fehrenbacher makes a 2nd trip to Apple's Maiden Data Center, will she make a 3rd trip next year?

GigaOm’s Katie Fehrenbacher has a post on her 2nd trip to Maiden, NC to see Apple’s data center.  If you repeat a task you get better with experience and familiarity.  Katie took a trip to NC in July 2012 and wrote a series of posts on her visit including visiting Apple’s data center.

The ultimate geek road trip: North Carolina’s mega data center cluster


JUL. 8, 2012 - 8:00 PM PST

Nov 2013, Katie returned to Maiden, NC and writes a well researched post on Apple’s renewable energy installation of 50MW.  Read Katie’s post to get the full report.  I’ll highlight a few points that shows how well Katie researched the post.

Katie gives background on her method

Apple has long been reticent about speaking to the media about its operations, green or otherwise. But I’ve pieced together a much more detailed picture of its clean energy operations after talking to dozens of people, many of them over the years. And Last week I got a chance to see these fully operational facilities for myself.

I walked around these pioneering landscapes, took these exclusive photos, and pondered why Apple made this move and why it’s important. This is Apple’s story of clean power plans, told comprehensively for the first time.

Katie points out that it is not possible for Apple to directly use the power from the its renewable energy sources.

Apple’s second 20 MW solar panel farm, which is about 15 miles away from the data center near the town of Conover, North Carolina, is also up and running. All told, the three facilities are creating 50 MW of power, which is about 10 MW more than what Apple’s data center uses. Because of state laws, the energy is being pumped into the power grid, and Apple then uses the energy it needs from the grid. But this setup also means Apple doesn’t need large batteries, or other forms of energy storage, to keep the power going when the sun goes down and its solar panels stop producing electricity.

Here is a nice picture Katie took.  One of the comments made said Katie should have used Panorama mode to get a wider view.

Apple's solar power farm stretches for TK acres

Apple’s solar power farm stretches for 100 acres

One of the funnier comments I read was a person saying the use of sheep is “iSheep" to clear the grass growing around the solar panels

You can see in the above picture that the grass is neatly maintained. Apple manages the grass under the panels in a variety of ways, but one of those is a little more unusual. Apple works with a company that ropes in sheep that eat the grass on a portion of the solar farm; when the sheep finish grazing on one spot, they’re moved to the next.

It’s a more sustainable option than running gas-powered mowers across the farm, and also has the added benefit that sheep can get into smaller spaces and up close to the panels. Some companies use goats to eat grass on plots of land, but goats could chew on the farm’s wiring and solar panel parts.

Apple’s 2nd solar array is 15 miles from the data center and putting the power on the grind makes much more sense than trying to bring the power back to the data center.

Apple's second solar farm about 15 miles from its data center in North Carolina

Apple’s second solar farm about 15 miles from its data center in North Carolina

Since the second solar farm is a ways away from the data center, it’s also an example of why Apple’s business with the utility is important. The power goes into the power grid near the solar farm, and Apple can use the equivalent back at its data center.

And Katie closes identifying Apple’s leadership.

Change often times happens incrementally. From the outside that happened with clean power and Internet companies in North Carolina. But sometimes crucial change happens with a single brush stroke or a single outlier decision. That’s how I see Apple’s clean power facilities in North Carolina — right now, they stand alone.

Disclosure: Katie is a good friend and I work freelance for GigaOm Research.  And after a post like this, it reminds me part of what I enjoy discussing is who is doing some of the coolest stuff in environmental efforts.

Seems kind of obvious that within the next year or two Katie will return to Maiden, and who knows what she’ll be able to write about then.

Katie’s post got picked up by others.

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