Monday, May 21, 2012

Apple to power its cloud with the sun

data centre servers

Computer giant Apple has announced it will power its main US data centre entirely from solar energy by the end of the year.

It plans to invest an unspecified amount in solar generation capacity sourced from SunPower Corp, plus solid oxide fuel cell technology from Bloom Energy.

The fuel cells will supply stored power generated from the sun, when it isn't shining, and use a ceramic powder instead of platinum to produce electricity with greater efficiently than traditional fuel cells.

They operate at extremely high temperatures, typically above 800°C, which improves their electrical efficiency.

Bloom Energy already supplies Google, eBay and Walmart as well as Adobe Coca-Cola and other household names.

SunPower Corp was the foremost commercial solar installer in the United States last year.

According to Apple's CFO Peter Oppenheimer, the investment will benefit its North Carolina facility, which holds the servers that host its iCloud data services.

The solar farm will provide 84GWh of energy annually, more than sufficient to power the data centre.

This data centre is not the only one used for the iCloud by Apple, but it is the main one.

Greenpeace last month challenged Apple in its report “How Clean is Your Cloud?” that it was not as green as Facebook and Google.

Data centres contain thousands of computers that store and manage the world's rapidly growing accumulation of data for consumption at a moment’s notice. They consume a tremendous amount of electricity. IT in total is responsible for around 2% of global GHG emissions [this sentence corrected since publication - see comments below].

But Greenpeace says that most IT companies are rapidly expanding without considering how their choice of energy could affect climate change.

Greenpeace said that Yahoo and Google both continue to lead the sector in prioritising renewable energy to power their cloud expansion.

It accused Amazon, Apple and Microsoft of rapidly expanding without adequate regard to the source of electricity, and of relying heavily on dirty energy.

It applauded Facebook for committing to power its platform with renewable energy, and Akamai, responsible for carrying a much internet traffic, for being the first IT company to begin reporting its carbon intensity under the new Carbon Utilization Effectiveness (CUE) standard.

In response, two weeks ago, Microsoft promised that it would go carbon neutral after July. Its chief operating officer Kevin Turner said that it would use carbon offsetting and improved energy efficiency.

Greenpeace criticised Microsoft however, because carbon offsetting still allows it “to keep building data centres that rely on coal, such as its new investments in Virginia and Wyoming".

Apple, however, appear to have listened to Greenpeace's advice.


bloke in spain said...

"Data centres contain thousands of computers that store and manage the world's rapidly growing accumulation of data for consumption at a moment’s notice. They consume a tremendous amount of electricity and are responsible for around 2% of global GHG emissions."

It would be absolutely fascinating to know where you get this figure from. You have specifically said 'data centres, not the world's total data processing needs. And as a proportion of total GHG emissions not just those derived from electricity generation.
At a rough guess, I'd say you were out by half a dozen orders of magnitude.

David Thorpe said...

The figure comes from the Greenpeace report referenced in the post, the sources of which are, in turn, referenced in the report.

bloke in spain said...

Then I'd respectfully suggest you go back & re-read it.

Anonymous said...

Just to give you some help, the total data centre requirement sums to 1.9 GW. Not a particularly clever figure because electricity consumption is usually expressed as W/h. Consumption not potential load. Nevertheless, global electricity generating capacity is multiple TWs & electricity generation accounts for only a third of energy use.
Bear in mind,also, elecgen is all of the nuclear, hydro & other non GHG producing energy routes.

I'll leave you to do the arithmatic.

SadButMadLad said...

Data centres on their own do not produce 2% of GHG. The *whole ICT* sector produces 2% of global carbon emissions. The SMART 2020 report says that it's figure comes from Gartner: Green IT, The New Industry Shockwave Apr 2007.

David Thorpe said...

Thanks SadButMadLad. The report says "One of the most recognized estimates of the IT sector’s footprint was conducted as part of the 2008 SMART 2020 study, which established that the sector is responsible for 2% of global GHG emissions".

Sorry for the misunderstanding: it's the whole sector, not data centres alone.