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back to article Apple's new data center to be solar powered, 100% green

Apple has announced that it will partner with Nevada's largest power company to build a solar farm to juice its data center in Reno, Nevada. The new photovoltaic power source, to be built in partnership with NV Energy, will pump 43.5 million kilowatt hours per year into the grid that will power the data center, Reuters reports …

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Anonymous Coward

Stunt

No way will they be able to run it purely on solar.

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I disagree...

Night not withstanding, they get an awful lot of sunlight over there.

http://www.currentresults.com/Weather/Nevada/annual-days-of-sunshine.php

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Stunt

They wont.

The electricity generated by the solar arrays gets fed into the power grid and Apple draw their electricity from the power grid. The gimmick is that the solar array is supposed to put more into the grid than Apple take out. That way they can claim they are powered by it.

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Re: Stunt

And presumably they get to sell to the grid at 5x the price they pay to extract. So their data center gets paid for by the poor people trying to heat their homes

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Re: Stunt

> The gimmick is that the solar array is supposed to put more into the grid than Apple take out. That way they can claim they are powered by it.

That's not a gimmick. If their solar systems more than offsets the energy requirenments, that's a viable green energy strategy.

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Re: Stunt

@Chris 3

"That's not a gimmick. If their solar systems more than offsets the energy requirenments, that's a viable green energy strategy."

Not really. An energy strategy has two components. Firstly, that it generates enough energy in total for the requirement. Tick for Apple. Secondly, that the energy is available when people need it. Fail for Apple. You can generate as much power as you like, using any means you like, but if it isn't available at the right times, you've failed. That's why there is work/investment going into batteries, pumped storage etc. Basically any means of being able to store the energy to cover darkness (solar) or calms (wind) etc.

So, without the fossil (and other) generating assets in the background, Apple don't have a VIABLE green energy strategy. They could run their datacentres during the day to their hearts content, but would have to switch off overnight!!

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JDX
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Re: Stunt

Of course it's viable. As long as only a few % of the nation's (or state's if they don't have a national grid?) energy is produced this way, it is perfectly viable. The problem only comes if a large proportion of energy generation is done this way.

However, while old-fashioned power stations can't be dialled up/down at the flick of a switch, at least SOME of them must be able to run on a 24-cycle where they ramp up for dark hours. Gas and Nuclear for example,

And, if more power is needed during the day than at night, stuff like this helps existing power stations run at a more level output.

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Re: Stunt

No it isn't. If the addition of their solar energy has no effect on the burning of fossil fuels as a result.

And there are increasing signs that that is exactly what happens with intermittent renewables. All or nearly all the gains are offset by increased losses in balancing the massive and rapid fluctuations in renewable power. This is especially so in the case of solar, which is 'hero to zero' every single day.

Unless they can offset with another zero carbon technology, like hydro, intermittent renewables do almost nothing to lower fossil fuel burn at all.

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Re: Stunt

@JDX

"Of course it's viable. As long as only a few % of the nation's (or state's if they don't have a national grid?) energy is produced this way, it is perfectly viable. The problem only comes if a large proportion of energy generation is done this way."

And this is precisely the problem. Firstly, Apple is ignoring all that fossil fueled generation plant that makes it's 'strategy' viable when they do their ecological assessment. So, if they want to ignore it for the assessment, their policy isn't viable. If they wish to have a viable policy, they must take it into account when working out the ecological impact and oh dear; suddenly they're nowhere near as green. You can't have it both ways. It either isn't viable or the ecological assessment they're done and their claims are actually wrong.

However, you have hit the nail on the head around generation capacity on a national scale. Problem is, politicians seem to think that 30% wind generation, or 20% solar (both targets spouted by politicians) can ever be met!! Percentages this high either require some sort of large scale storage, or cannot be met by any generation method that isn't reliable (meaing always sunny of always blowing). So, politicians are spouting off for soundbites without really understanding the underlying issues and requirements.

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Holmes

Neon power

Are we to assume the solar power system will be run using the light from Las Vegas neon signs at night?

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Re: Neon power

There is a solar power station in Spain that works at night. It uses the sun's rays to heat molten salt, and the heat from that is used to power a traditional thermal generator. So if they use one of those, it can be genuinely 100% solar. However, I suspect the capacity of the solar installation is higher than what they need for the data centre, and the surplus is sold off to the grid during the day and bought back at night.

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FAIL

Re: Neon power

Except that spanish station is a concentrated solar-thermal plant. The article explicitly stated this was a photo-voltaic plant.

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FAIL

Re: Neon power

No it doesn't. It was discovered to be using diesel generators to generate power at night. Using agricultural diesl with low tax rates, the FIT for solar was enough to make a decent profit :-)

http://www.theecologist.org/News/news_round_up/465409/spanish_nighttime_solar_energy_fraud_unlikely_in_uk.html

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Anonymous Coward

100% green?

Really? So I assume that producing all the building materials, racking, servers, cabling etc will not involve mining processes that contaminate groundwater, that none of the electronic components will contain lead etc, etc...

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Re: 100% green?

The same could be said for building coal, gas, oil, nuclear, etc power stations.

Anything we use to make electricity with is always going to use resources of some kind.

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Dark?

Wonderful idea this solar stuff. Works nicely during the day and in the summer the days are nice and long. They even have a festival there (Burning Man).

Geothermal is nice too, until old faithful isn't very. Why not use the geothermal 100% of the time, as it has the ability to power the data center, and just eliminate the expense of the solar plant.

Oh, wait, there are tax incentives, ask Solyndra!

So, all us taxpayers will end up paying for a "part time" chunk of power. I can't wait! Winter nights are coming (5-6 months away!).

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Ru
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Flame

Re: Dark?

Geothermal is a slight inconvenient technology to use... there are probably huge areas where it wouldn't be appropriate at all, and yet more areas where the expense of building such a thing would far outweigh the benefits. If you're in a sunny desert on the other hand, the amount of technical expertise and construction equipment required will be vastly lower.

I Am Not A Geologist, however. The Nevada site may be a perfect hotspot for all I know, but I rather suspect that a 20MW geothermal installation would have cost a few more pennies than the equivalent solar cells, taxbreaks or no.

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Swings and roundabouts

The Chocolate Factory is building a solar power station which will connect into Nevada's grid and generate a variable amount of electricity when the sun shines. The total amount generated each year and pumped into the grid will match or exceed what they pull out of the grid 24/7/365 to power their data centre, assuming the design and operation works out. The power station isn't being built to provide electricity just for the data centre.

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E 2

There is so much hot air at Apple HQ

...they could run it on wind power

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FAIL

Is it really 100% green

If they have to rely on electricity from other sources overnight?

Surely the only way this could be 100% green is if they stay off grid and have a shedload of batteries for the overnight?

Although batteries are hardly green given what it takes to make them.

Looks like greenwash to me.

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JDX
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Re: Is it really 100% green

100% offset is a better term perhaps but it's still an achievement. Note that in places like Nevada, they probably need more electricity during the day than at night, since they use A/C in the sun rather than heating in the dark.

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Oh look, the anti progress brigade turned up in the forum

As usual you think it's all about you. My taxes etc. I get that articles like this hurt your feelings. Even when they're sarcastically written by Rick. However, there's a teeny weeny chance Apple is doing this for internal as well as external reasons.

If you ran a company full of of progressive west-coast types (opposite of most commentards above), chances are you'd pander to their desires and go green. Sorry Rick.

The windmill fighting class is over there, by the rotting tyres.

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Holmes

Re: Oh look, the anti progress brigade turned up in the forum

I am always amazed at the number of Luddites on a cutting edge tech news site like this one.

"Bizarre" barely begin to describe it

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Re: Oh look, the anti progress brigade turned up in the forum

Anti green brigade think we should build more coal and gas stations. I am trying to see the logic why green energy is bad. Maybe we should start building gas and coal power stations where anti green brigades live since they like them so much.

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Re: Oh look, the anti progress brigade turned up in the forum

I'm always amazed at the number of readers on el'reg with a sound understanding of physics/maths/economics who can see through cheap publicity stunts.

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Think past the press release

Perhaps many of the commentards are like me... we do see some potential upside, but we baulk at the claim it is 100% green because there are still huge downsides. It all depends on how you set the risk-o-meter.

In this case, there are still huge environmental impacts. Covering hundreds of acres of desert is wiping out part of an ecosystem. It might "only" be a desert and not emotionally charged rain forest, but deserts are far more sensitive to disturbance than rain forests. If Apple chopped down hundreds of acres of rain forest to build their eco-indulgence what would people be saying?

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Think past the press release

Ok so they are covering a few hundred acres with a PV array. There are hundreds if not thousands of square miles of this sort of terrain in Nevada. Lots of Nevada is pretty sparsely populated and land is pretty cheap.

I bought 17,000 acres NW of Ely in 2004 It is empty wilderness for the most part. About 500 acres is tree covered. I've turned it into trust with covenants attached so that no one can build anything more than a log cabin anywhere on it.

About 400 acres is a derelict silver mine. No one complained when that was in operation now did they? That was far more polluting (IMHO) than either the Google or Apple sites.

If you think otherwise then may I suggest that you head to 'The Empty Quarter' and bury your head in the sand.

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Re: Think past the press release

@AC

"About 400 acres is a derelict silver mine. No one complained when that was in operation now did they? That was far more polluting (IMHO) than either the Google or Apple sites."

Silver mines can be quite polluting in their immediate environs, but Apples datacentres will be hugely polluting over a much bigger area and to a much larger extent. What about all the pollutants being produced to create all the material used to build the datacentre? What about all the pollutants used to create all the machinery (and operate said) building it? What about all the pollutants created building all the servers etc. inside the datacentre? What about all the pollutants created when swapping the servers etc. every x years?

I think you'll find the silver mine would have produced far less pollution than Apples datacentre.

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Re: Oh look, the anti progress brigade turned up in the forum

>Luddites on a cutting edge tech news site

Nothing wrong with having a few luddities around. I found that, correctly managed, their input improved the quality of the IT solutions we proposed to our clients. Basically it enabled us to design and deliver leading edge solutions on proven/risk assessed tech. hence we reduced the number of delivery projects that went awry.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Think past the press release

I guess nothing anyone says here will satisfy you.

Why don't you get back into your 6.5ltr Dodge Ram and pose like a good 'Oil Burner'?

Apple (and others) trying to reduce the long term carbon emissions of the power gen that the need are at least trying. They might be Satan Incarnate in many areas but please give them credit where is it due.

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Re: Think past the press release

@AC

"Apple (and others) trying to reduce the long term carbon emissions of the power gen that the need are at least trying. They might be Satan Incarnate in many areas but please give them credit where is it due."

Depends on their motivation. Is it really them trying to be green, or is it simply a cost saving exercise? Unless someone see's the figures, who knows, but I strongly suspect the latter is having a big impact. Of course, it's also good press as well. Of course, the fact they still require the fossil fueled power stations in the background to cover when their solar farm isn't generating is completely by many!! Without those fossil fueled power stations, Apples strategy simply wouldn't work.

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Re: Think past the press release

No they are not.

They are cashing in on subsidies and cosmetic solutions. To fool such as yourself.

If they REALLY wanted to reduce CO2 emissions they would build a nuclear power plant.

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Re: Oh look, the anti progress brigade turned up in the forum

@CCCP: Who is this "Rick" of whom you speak?

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Zot
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Why the negativity?

It's better than NOT doing it at all, and if they've got the cash, then why can't they try solar power?

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Childcatcher

Re: Why the negativity?

I've got nothing against them using solar power. If they want to be "green" because they think it's the right thing to do and spend only their own massive stockpile of cash then fine. I just think it's disingenuous to say, "Oh look how green we are!" when they are doing it for the tax breaks which I don't think should be subsidized by everyone else.

Consider both Uncle Sam and Nevada are going to give them tax breaks with Nevada's going on top of the taxes they won't pay on the utility bill. How many of the same people who rail against Apple and Google not paying their "fair share" of taxes think it's fine to get a tax break when doing solar because it's the "right thing to do"? My problem is that taxes is a zero sum game so in order for someone to win (pay less) someone else has to lose (pay more) because we know as sure as the sun is coming up tomorrow that the government isn't going to spend less because Apple got a tax break.

I'm against it because I don't believe in the government redistributing wealth especially when that flow is toward the rich multinationals like Apple. Don't get me wrong, I know it probably won't be me who has to pay extra because the government has this nasty habit of spending now and paying later by way of deficit spending to pass the buck to the next generation. In short, Apple and their government lackeys aren't picking your pocket they're picking your children's pocket and "won't someone think of the children!"

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Stop

Re: Why the negativity?

Error - assumes Apple intend to pay any tax at all. We're not seeing much supporting evidence for that assumption.

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Re: Why the negativity?

@Dogged.

It's exactly these sorts of tax breaks and subsidies etc. that companies like Apple use to reduce their tax bills, preferably to nothing. I agree there is no evidence of any intent by Apple to pay tax, but this is precisely one of those 'mechanisms' that allows them to do it!!

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Re: Why the negativity?

Because overall it is not a green solution. It increases emissions. Both in manufacture and in operation.

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Re: Why the negativity?

@Mad Mike

Surely it's cheaper to remain legally "homeless" for the purposes of tax than to build a damn great solar plant?

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Re: Why the negativity?

@dogged.

Sorry, I've no idea what this means in relation to what we were commenting on.

"Surely it's cheaper to remain legally "homeless" for the purposes of tax than to build a damn great solar plant?"

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Re: Why the negativity?

Currently Apple aren't registered for tax anywhere on the planet, so they don't pay any.

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Meh

Re: Why the negativity?

I see Tim Cook is in.

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Right direction

Simple reason why Apple are doing this. It has to do with £€$. Other benefits are a bonus.

Oil, gas and coal prices are fluctuating and the general trend is that the fossil fuel prices will go up. There is nothing wrong with what Apple Are doing. Whatever Apple does to reduce reliance on fossil fuels it should be applauded and encouraged.

I'd like to know why the anti renewables brigade think it is a bad idea and why we should continue using fossil fuels.

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Re: Right direction

http://www.templar.co.uk/downloads/Renewable%20Energy%20Limitations.pdf

That's why renewables are almost completely pants.

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Anonymous Coward

AC

I'm looking at the Reno weather forecast for tomorrow and it says 101F (38C) with thunderstorms. How's that for your air conditioning bill? Sometimes when you hear about a data center going "green" it really means that they've maxed out the regional wiring. Solar cells, code cleanup, hotter servers, and fancy cooling systems aren't so expensive compared to asking the power company to upgrade a few miles of high tension wires.

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Good on em! It'll save them money in the medium/long term, and provide yet another reference site to prove it is possible and does work. Since we cant wait for the whole world to be powered by one single epic 24x7 renewable power installation, every bit built and emissions saved is good - and a 1 megawatt hour plant is nothing to be sneezed at. Keep it up apple, and anyone whos in a position to do the same go for it. And im not even an apple fanboi, I have zero apple products and avoid itunes like the plague.

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@andro

"Good on em! It'll save them money in the medium/long term, and provide yet another reference site to prove it is possible and does work"

Is possible and does work at what cost? This has nothing to do with whether it can be done and be made to work. Everyone knows you could power an entire city on photo voltaic if you wanted to. However, at what cost? All this project proves is it works and is possible if you throw enough subsidies at it. Nothing more. It doesn't prove the technology, simple proves someone is stupid enough to throw a lot of money at Apple to make it financially possible.

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I think a lot of previous commentators are missing the point here and entering a pointless green/anti-green debate. When any large corporation does this sort of thing, you need to understand why. Bearing in mind Apple are showing themselves to be all about the money (tax avoidance etc.), you can bet this has something to do with reducing costs. Any good publicity you can get out of it at the same time, result.

Green energy isn't a problem for anyone. I think everyone wants green energy, but the issue is cost. Almost all forms of green energy are hugely more expensive to run than coal and gas. That doesn't mean we shouldn't try and head that way, but that we need to be mindful of costs. In order to drive green energy, just about every country on earth is offering incentives to build green generation. Essentially, they are artificially reducing the cost of the green energy with these subsidies.

So, why is Apple doing it? They're simply taking advantage of all the incentives and getting the tax breaks, subsidies etc. to lower their bills. Nothing more than that. They're getting good publicity at the same time, which is another result. Who's paying for it? All the other electricity users/taxpayers. They're effectively subsidizing Apple to run this and save themselves money. Additionally, the datacentre actually needs another source of power overnight and this is provided by normal coal/gas etc. generation. Apple should really be paying for part of this, but isn't. Otherwise, their green solar power wouldn't actually be able to power the datacentre!!

To see how stupid the situation is, you only have to look at solar PV installations in the UK. Any householder who puts solar PV on their roof and got in early (the rate has now dropped) will receive 45p per kWh generated, plus be able to use the electricity themselves. Finally, they can also sell back to the grid at something like 3p a kWh. Interestingly, I know of people who get this 3p on half of what they generate as the power company can't actually work out how much they're exporting!! Given that the kWh price of electricity is somewhere between 10 and 15p (depending on tarrif, standing charge etc.), this is simply printing money!! And who pays for it? All the other electricity users......

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Every new source if energy needs tax breaks. People are forgetting fossil fuels at one point had tax breaks or government incentives to get these projects off the ground. In countries like the UK coal power stations were owned by the state. Here is an example if one that is private now, but state owned http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Drax_power_station.

Most if these state owned power stations were flogged off cheaply so investment can be made and profits generated. As green energy technology improves, whether it be solar or any other source, it would become considerably cheaper than generating energy from fossil fuels in the long run. They are already contributing in reducing carbon emissions. Here us an example if what a green energy company is trying to achieve http://www.ecotricity.co.uk/our-green-energy/energy-independence/our-fuel-mix .

Yes we do have to pay for the investment through tax breaks or charging users if electricity more to invest back into the infrastructure.

If you have better alternatives please let us know or should we continue using fossil fuels?

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