Apple's 100% greening of its data centers, why? a passion to do the right thing

GigaOm's Katie Fehrenbacher has a post on Apple being 100% renewable powered.

Apple now powering its cloud with solar panels, fuel cells (photos)


MAR. 21, 2013 - 12:11 PM PDT


Apple Solar Farm

Apple’s massive solar panel and fuel cell farm are now live and providing clean power for its huge data center in Maiden, North Carolina. By the end of the year 60 percent of the power for the data center will come from these sources.

Apple has turned on the first halves of both its massive solar panel farm and adjacent fuel cell farm, and is using the systems to provide power for its $1 billion, 500,000 square-foot data center in Maiden, North Carolina. The clean power projects are some of the largest non-utility owned systems in the world, and they’re part of Apple’s plan to use 100 percent clean power for its data centers. Apple revealed the information in a new environmental report on Thursday.


Apple’s Renewable Energy Projects at Maiden

In 2012, we built the nation’s largest end user–owned, onsite solar photovoltaic array on land surrounding the data center. This 100-acre, 20-megawatt (MW) facility has an annual production capacity of 42 million kWh of clean, low-carbon, renewable energy.

Late last year, we decided to double our capacity by beginning construction on a second 20-MW solar photovoltaic facility nearby that should be operational near the end of 2013.

In 2012, we also worked with the North Carolina Utilities Commission (NCUC) to develop state-specific rules under which fuel cells supplied by biogas from landfills and other renewable sources can be used to generate renewable energy. Consistent with these rules, we built an onsite 4.8-MW fuel cell installation fueled by landfill biogas that provides more than 40 million kWh of 24/7 baseload renewable energy annually.

In early 2013, we expanded this installation to 10 MW, which makes it the largest non-utility fuel cell installation operating anywhere in the country, supplying more than 83 million kWh annually. 

Including a video that shows the site.

What gave me a good laugh is reading DatacenterKnowledge's coverage of the 100% green Apple data center speculating that Greenpeace is the cause of Apple's efforts.

In the wake of pressure from the environmental group Greenpeace, Apple said Thursday that it has achieved 100 percent renewable energy at all of its data centers, including facilities in North Carolina, Oregon, California and Nevada.

The author goes on to reference other Greenpeace efforts and press releases.

Gary Cook, senior IT analyst at Greenpeace called Apple out at an Uptime Symposium saying that it and Facebook should  “wield (its) power to alter the energy paradigm.” Apple has since stepped up in a big way. Since 2010, it has achieved a 114 percent increase in the usage of renewable energy at corporate facilities worldwide, up to 70 percent overall from 35 percent.

“Apple’s announcement shows that it has made real progress in its commitment to lead the way to a clean energy future,” Cook said in a statement Thursday. “Apple’s increased level of disclosure about its energy sources helps customers know that their iCloud will be powered by clean energy sources, not coal.”

Long before Greenpeace was going after the data center industry Olivier was passionate about green data centers at eBay 5 years ago and he most likely took that same passion to Apple.  

And, we could count on Olivier to be ready with a passionate view on doing the right thing for the environment, adding issues about water consumption, eWaste, and other environmental concerns beyond simply the power consumed.

Here is Olivier speaking at a Google event 4 years ago.

At Google’s Efficient Data Center Summit, there was a panel discussion on Best Practices. Panel members left to right: Ken Brill, James Hamilton, William Tschudi, and Olivier Sanche.


One of the questions for the panel members was on subject of green and sustainability.

Ken Brill gave a practical view of show me the money. Green is overhyped and a clear ROI needs to be established for projects.

Olivier Sanche starts by telling the story of his child telling him how the polar bears are drowning, then he thinks he is potentially building a data center that will have a bigger impact to global warming than any other action he has as an individual.  Olivier tells his team we need to do the right thing, and how we impact the environment is part of the equation.

If Apple was following Ken Brill's advice from above that Green is overhyped, then you could more easily believe that Greenpeace got them to change their mind. 

You could argue that DCK was correct in saying Greenpeace was an influence, but compared to what Olivier did inside Apple I would say Olivier was 1,000 times more influential for the direction of Apple's green data center efforts than Greenpeace.  The benefit Greenpeace has is they still have a voice and they have the incentive to tell their supporters that they can change the industry.  "Look we got Apple to change its direction."  Olivier is no longer with us, and I am sure he would screaming loudly that this is BS.  We greened our data centers because it is the right thing to do, not because an environmental group has chosen to target the company.

Apple achieving this public statement of being 100% renewable in its data center is an achievement of OIivier Sanche, not Greenpeace.

Disclosure:  Olivier Sanche was one of my closest data center friends, and I still keep in touch with his family. I work with GigaOm as an analyst, so I know Katie Fehrenbacher and how she writes.  If Katie writes something I don't agree with I'll tell her where she needs to correct her facts.  GigaOm hires me for my independent opinion and industry expertise.