Apple has turned a green leaf by committing to a goal of running all its facilities on 100% renewable energy. They are close to achieving this goal; having reached 75% of worldwide facilities to date. This is impressive considering the explosion of cloud based data storage in the last few years, and the additional power demands this has placed on cloud servers hosted by the big IT companies.
As well as simply buying renewable electricity from existing energy providers Apple has gone several steps further – building its own solar photovoltaic (PV) array to power its data centre in North Carolina. Apples renewable approach is not only limited to the big players, solar and wind, but also includes hydrogen fuel cell installations, local geothermal and hydroelectric energy. The latter is under way to supply the Oregon Prineville, data centre along with wind energy. As the Oregon climate is substantially wetter than the sunny states of Nevada and North Carolina, where Apples solar powered data centres are situated, expanding to use hydro-resources is a good move.
A local newspaper The Bulletin suggested that Apple has purchased a locally run micro-hydro project by Oregon based company Earth By Design. The in-flow hydro project would use micro-turbines situated in a diverted stretch of water from an existing canal, to generate ongoing and predictable renewable energy as the water continually flows past the turbine. This form of in-flow hydro-turbines are much more environmentally friendly and sustainable than dam based hydro-electricity, which often requires large scale man-made flooding of the dam sites.
Committing to powering all its data centres and facilities with 100% renewable energy is a great step towards sustainable practices in the tech industry. Although it should not be forgotten that the carbon footprint of these facilities accounts for only 2% of the Apples total carbon footprint according to its 2012 Apple Facilities: Environmental Footprint Report. The remaining 98% is generated over the life cycle of Apple products; from manufacturing, transportation, use and recycling. However it is great to see the commitment to renewable energy Apple is pursuing, and it will be interesting to see whether other companies will follow suit.