back to article Apple plans big solar farm to clean dirty datacenter

Apple is planning to build a huge solar farm to augment the power supply of one of its dirtiest datacenter clusters. The company has asked permission to clear 171 acres of land for a solar energy harvesting operation at a new datacenter in Maiden, North Carolina – codenamed Project Dolphin. Apple’s existing datacenter …


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  1. Jeff 11

    So Apple wants to build a facility to provide about 1/8 of its energy requirements for a single datacentre. Sounds like an utter greenwash to me, but then Apple appears to have nothing useful to spend its mega-dosh on.

    1. HMB


      Your point?

      I thought all renewable energy except for hydro was about pointless token gestures. That is until we find a way of storing energy with an energy density only found in nuclear physics or develop superconducting intercontinental power grids at affordable cost.

      It's a shame we can't just use nuclear, but keeping energy flowing at reasonable cost isn't worth it if it gives the ignorant heeby jeebies. I mean who wants the heeby jeebies? I don't!

      Bless 'em.

  2. David Kelly 2

    Net Gain?

    How much energy is going to be expended building the solar panels then erecting Apple's solar farm?

    1. John Robson Silver badge

      More significantly...

      how much solar capture is being chopped down?

      Surely a biomass mini power station would be a more efficient system.

    2. Marvin the Martian

      With a lot of computer activity peaking late afternoon / early evening, and no strong seasonal trend, maybe windfarms would be more obvious choices than solar?

      Tho cloudy business computing would be mostly 9-to-6 [serving one timezone westwards from NC].

      Killing trees for greenness (greenicity? greenage?) is a think different idea though. Sure it will help the local ecosystem.

  3. Jeff 10

    And what about clearing those trees?

    Why not put them on top of the building?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Duh! Oh dear I'm sure that thought didn't occur to them. And now they've spent all that money buying and reshaping more land!

      Quick get in touch before they make further mistakes.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Not enough surface area; the roof may not be able to structurally support enough panels to make it worth while. Fixing the panels to the roof could create ingress for water; not helpful in a datacenter. Maintenance of the panels becomes more problematic and costly. These are just a couple of the architectural reasons I can think of off the top of my head, there probably are many more.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Greenpeace guestimates

    Don't those depend on the size of the cheque?

    They certainly did last time I worked in a large project.

  5. Dan Paul

    @Jeff 10 Never forget how much load your roof is designed for!

    Consider the latest fashion for solar power involves several solar panels on top of a motorized sun tracking mount on a pedestal. The existing roof structural design certainly did not consider the point load and the wind load from this type of solar panel. They'd need to build a whole new roof.

    The tracking panels are more efficient as they follow the sun and change the angle and elevation of the panel to get the most sunlight. California, Nevada etc can have roof monted fixed solar panels but it would not work in the Eastern USA.

    Given that North Carolina is drowning in Pig Dung and that makes great Methane, maybe they should consider Fuel Cells instead of Solar. They produce electricity as long as there is "Gas" feeding them. Now you're "Green" and doing a public service as well.

    On the other hand, Yahoo built a new data center near Niagara Falls NY USA that relies on our cool weather, using outside air during the late fall, winter and early spring to cool their equipment. No energy cost except the fans (No Chillers required).

    1. Eddy Ito

      Yes but,

      "Now you're "Green" and doing a public service as well."

      Having lived near a pig farm in my youth, do the fuel cells take care of the odor as well?

      1. NinjasFTW
        Thumb Up

        Maybe not so bad

        Its early and before my first coffee so my brain is a little fuzzy, but i recently read a story about a pig farmer in Scotland who installed a pig poo generator.

        One of the benefits of it was that the bacteria added that fed on the poo to produce methane(?) actually neutralised a lot of the smell.

    2. David Beck

      Longitude Counts???

      While latitude is important, longitude is not. If it works in CA or NV then it will work at the same latitude 3000 miles east.

      Cloudy days per year is another story.

    3. MooseNC
      Thumb Down

      I LIVE in North Carolina. Power and land is ONLY cheap if you have multi-billions of dollars. I have $400 power bills every month, and that is for a 1500 sq ft home with completely new AC and Heat and usually ran at 80 in the summer and 62 in the winter.

      Apple came here only because Bev Perdue was the best under the desk of whatever Apple lawyer she talked to.

      Instead of giving tax breaks to these rich bastards (Who could "Innovate" fusion power, because, they're so "INNOVATIVE"!!!) Maybe she should pay attention to the people that bust their ass everyday in this state for shit for pay!!!!

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    So rather than use the nuclear power

    that is already has- taking up very little space, not costing a massive amount, producing tiny volumes of waste and being fairly safe owing to the massive safeguards put in place around them, they're going to use a bigass semiconductor fab to create 171 acres- that's almost 700,000 square meters or about 7.5 Million square feet (to use the same measurement unit as office space etc)- of solar cells?

    Solar cells which will still need constant maintenance, replacing every few years as they wear out / fail (or, being Apple, as a slight gust of wind cracks their outer coatings) or as technology advances and they need more power, massive power storage facilities, and which take up a massive amount of space that could be used to grow trees?

    700,000 square meters is a larger plot than the land Torness nuclear power station stands on (under 500,000 square meters)- which provides 13x the electricity required for this data centre- even at night! Given that the world produces only ~12,000tonnes of nuclear waste a year, the wasted extra 200,000 square meters could hold approximately 189 years worth of the world's nuclear waste (assuming it was just in a big meter-deep vat, which isn't really an effective storage solution).

    So with their land they could produce 13x their energy requirements- meaning they could sell surplus to the national grid or local equivalent- and store at least their own nuclear waste for the next couple of centuries. And provides masses of engineering jobs, provides links with proper engineering firms and so on. If they managed to get it all running on OSX they could even have a massive marketing push towards other engineering firms.

    Or they could eke out enough power to power their data centre. Get a bit of green cred from Greenpeace. Unless it has a high load, then it's off to the Grid for more locally-sourced coal power.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Erm, are you seriously suggesting Apple should build their own nuclear power plant? It takes 20 to 30 years to build one.

      You do realise SJ's phrase "going thermonuclear on Android" was just a figure of speech right...?

    2. Yag

      Read again Greenpeace rant...

      "...94 per cent of generative and cooling power coming from nuclear or coal energy."

      Yes, those dorks don't like nuclear, they prefer dirty-to-make-dirtier-to-dump-overly-inefficient-powerplants...

      I wonder if their ships are solar-powered too. Nuking them seems to be better solution than listening to those hypocrite bastards...

      1. Marvin the Martian

        Greenpeace rant...

        Think what you want, but in the 80s governments still thought it was a good idea to throw loose barrels of nuclear waste into the North Sea. It was only Greenpeace's suicidal zodiacs getting constantly in the news that put the pressure of public opinion onto legistlation to change this.

        They may have run out of the more obvious, low-hanging-fruitcake insanely bad practice targets because of their earlier success, leaving them with more questionable aims now.

        RIP greenpeace.

    3. David Beck

      "Solar cells which will still need constant maintenance, replacing every few years as they wear out / fail". Then why are the ones on my roof guaranteed by Sharp for 20 years? With 80% generation at 25 years.

      The German experience is that there is no maintenance other than cleaning on the panels. The inverters do need to be replaced about half way through the system lifetime of 25 years.

      Perhaps you are buying below standard panels?

  7. Chris 171


    That would surely work, wouldn't just want to find a easy way to clear a tract of land for future datacenter expansion would you apple....

  8. 404

    <head explodes a'la "Scanners">

    Having lived in southern Arizona for twenty-something-damned years and living in east Tennessee for the past seven or so years, it's all I can do to just shake my head and say WTF You Short-Sighted, Stupid Sonuvabitches?

    I have been seeing more and more solar panels being installed at US Gov-backed loan expense out here - this-is-not-the-climate-for-them - high humidity, heavy dew, perhaps 65 percent usable sunshine per year, storms, tornadoes, etc. They might make their money back in 15-20 years if Mutha Nature allows the panels to survive. The Gov also wants to monitor the system through a couple of my (clients) networks - uh huh. Separate small DSL connection I'm thinking. I'll save that one.

    Moving on.

    North Carolina is more of the same. Possibly more snow.. Some facts:: The Tennessee Valley Authority provides electricity to 9 million people in 7 states via a system of hydroelectric (created/begun in 1933) dams throughout the Tennessee Valley, as well as nuclear power plants. That being said, why, oh why bother with solar farms that will only operate at best 70% of the year and are a bitch to maintain due to environmental conditions?

    Would this money be better spent carpeting Death Valley with solar farms? Low to no humidity, with a 'puff' system to blow the dust off when needed? Fine - Apple's data center sucks power - build the farm in a logical environment, see actual results, and get credit for adding power to the grid. This shouldn't take a rocket scientist to figure out - this just makes everybody concerned feel good about being green, even if it's a faux green. ugh.

    Build all the solar farms you want - just build them where it makes sense to do so.

    <author's note>

    Not bad for somebody running a 101f temp atm - words be blurring but I was taken by the sheer stupidity of mankind sometimes...

    1. PsychicMonkey

      feel good about being green

      therein lie the problem wit a lot of "green" stuff, reducing the carbon emmissions and the amount of energy we use has got to be a good thing, but a lot of these schemes seem to be jus set up with the appearance of doing the right thing.

      Until this changes to actually doing the right thing, "climate change" will still be thrown about as must as "Think of the children!"

  9. Richard Wharram

    Surely just leaving such a large area as growing forest would suck up a large amount of CO2 anyway. They could harvest it every few years to make boxes for iDevices too.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    How do they dispose of the panels

    When they wear out of a decade or two? How environmentally friendly is that? Trees can eat CO2, nothing eats dead solar cells.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Red Drawf ... the eight drawf left on Snow White's cutting room floor.

    Rumor has it after the solar farm is built, Apple will apply to patent solar. Just solar so that would cover everything under the sun ... and the sun itself.

  12. Edgar Scrutton

    I had a solar design/install company back in 1978-86 and have a enduring interest in renewable energies.

    Truth of the matter is, that the system should go on the roof top. Fixed arrays are denser than articulated pods and can generate equivalent yields. Being on the roof can help avoid local environmental ground fog. Penetrations and maintenance are in fact easier. It is cheaper to fasten to the buildings structure than it is to clear the site and put cement footings into the ground. Power is generated where it is needed. No distribution required. They should also consider turning the roof into a 'living roof' with grass and plants that would reduce the heat gain that is considerable in Carolina, and would also produce oxygen and hold rain water.

    The downside of this is that adding the solar racking and panels increases the insurance cost of the building and possibly the local taxes on the building. Racking and panels can present a challenge in case of a fire, as they've found out in Germany.

    Although it is not yet existent technology, I fully expect we will develop the ability to recycle the solar cells and the panels. Solar arrays in that sense will be come recyclable.

  13. itzman

    So why is nuclear power so dirty then?

    I would have said Apple should build a nuclear plant, throw their silly greenwash panels in the sea, and run the whole TOWN off it.

    Good grief..mind I means who buys apple products except silly greenwashed people?

    just don't buy your apps after dark...

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    171 acres

    so they kill off 171 acres of land that could have been trees that would photosynthesize more CO2 than these solar panels would ever save, even assuming the panels did not produce pollution in their manufacture, transport and installation.

    This is greenwashing at best, and at worse an attempt to cash in on scandalicious "cap and trade" schemes in the future. Systems that make people money but are nowhere near the best thing to do for the environment.

    1. Mick Sheppard

      This is the problem with single interest groups ala Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth. They have a political agenda established on feelings rather than facts. The facts are that Nuclear is a much greener producer of power than any of the green alternatives. It does have a downside. We are familiar with that downside to such an extent that its managed.

      No one knows the impact of large scale solar panels installations. We can speculate, and whilst running they don't generate any nasty waste products that we are aware of yet. However the environmental cost to build, transport, and install, isn't zero. There is also the question of disposal once they have outlived their useful life. The environmental cost of covering land formerly covered in vegetation with solar panels is also not zero. That doesn't matter though. Greenpeace have deemed solar as green and the public listen to them.

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