With its newest data center in North Carolina, Apple is hoping to get a boost from the sun to power its rapidly growing cloud services. It's also banking on one of the nation's largest fuel-cell installations of its kind in an effort to get completely off the electrical grid.

Rendering courtesy of Apple
Apple's Maiden, N.C., data center will draw power from a 20-MW solar farm and a 5-MW fuel-cell installation.

Having completed a $1-billion, 500,000-sq-ft data center in Maiden, N.C., in late 2011, the computing giant recently began construction on a 20-MW solar farm. Along with a new 5-MW fuel-cell installation, the company plans to use the farm to supply all the energy needed to run the facility.

The data center, which was constructed to house the servers that drive the company's iCloud service, has drawn sharp criticism from Greenpeace and other environmental groups for thus far using coal and other non-renewable energy sources to power the facility.

The solar farm will be built over 100 acres across the street from the data center and will supply 42 million kWh of renewable energy per year.

Apple declined to discuss the project when contacted by ENR. However, in a statement contained in its 2012 facilities report, the company says the solar farm will be the nation's "largest end user-owned, onsite solar array."

Also in the report, Apple said the fuel-cell installation, which is set to be operational by the end of 2012, will be the country's largest "non-utility" fuel-cell installation. It will be powered 100% by biogas, producing more than 40 million kwh of energy per year.

The completed data center earned a LEED-Platinum certification by the U.S. Green Building Council after its completion last year.

"We know of no other data center of comparable size that has achieved this level of LEED certification," the company said in a statement.

The solar and fuel-cell installations are part of a flurry of activity that has been ramping up at the site in recent weeks. On March 6, Atlanta's Holder Construction, the lead contractor on all of Apple's work at the Maiden site, was granted separate permits for erosion control and storm-water grading.

Holder also received a permit for a "non-occupied equipment building." It is not clear if those permits are related to the solar and fuel-cell installations or for additional construction on the site. According to a Charlotte Observer report, Apple's original plan for the Maiden site specified two identical data-center facilities. So far, only one has been built.

Representatives from Holder did not return messages seeking comment.


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