Apple has created an energy company called Apple Energy LLC so it can sell energy generated by renewable-energy plants it has invested in around the US, including utility-scale solar installations and fuel-cell plants that convert biogas to energy.
The company revealed its new subsidiary in documents filed with the Federal Energy Regulation Commission, spotted first by 9to5Mac. In the documents, Apple is asking for FERC permission to sell energy from close to 90MW of renewable-energy generation capacity it owns and its 130MW power purchase agreement with a solar-farm developer in California.
Apple has been striving to power 100 percent of its operations, including several large-scale data centers, with renewable energy. Its data centers started consuming more energy than any other part of the company's operations in 2013.
With the exception of colocation facilities it uses in addition to the data centers it owns, Apple has been able to claim that its data center infrastructure is powered entirely by renewable energy, using a combination of its own generation capacity and renewable energy purchases.
The application doesn’t mean Apple may eventually sell energy directly to consumers. The company is asking the commission to grant its new subsidiary market-based rate authority, which is a license to sell energy on the wholesale market at market rates, as opposed to rates established by energy regulators.
The authority is a mechanism to enable energy companies that aren’t vertically integrated in a given market – meaning they don’t own enough generation and transmission infrastructure to be essential to ensuring the region has enough power – to compete with the ones that do, while the ones that do have to sell energy at rates set by regulators because they hold too much power in the market.
There’s also no indication that Apple is looking for a way to sell excess energy its renewable-energy generation projects produce. The commission’s approval would simply give it more flexibility to sell the energy it generates to make it more economical.
Google has had a subsidiary registered as an energy company for years for this reason. If a company invests in a utility-scale photovoltaic installation or a wind farm, it usually cannot plug its data center into the generation source directly. The energy has to go to the same utility grid all other electricity users in the area are on.
Google sells the clean energy it pays for on the wholesale energy market, recouping its costs and applying renewable energy credits to the regular grid power it buys for its data centers, making it “carbon-neutral” as a result. The company has said this scheme makes using renewable energy at least as economical as simply buying grid energy if not more economical in some cases. As the cost of renewable energy goes down over time, Google expects to actually make a profit from the energy it sells.
Apple owns four data center sites in the US, which together consumed 455 million kilowatt-hours of energy in 2015, according to the company’s latest sustainability report:
- Newark, California: 137 million kWh in 2015
- Reno, Nevada: 46 million kWh in 2015
- Prineville, Oregon: 54 million kWh in 2015
- Maiden, North Carolina: 218 million kWh in 2015
The company has data center projects underway in Mesa, Arizona, Athenry, Ireland, and Viborg, Denmark.
It also uses shared colocation data centers in the US and elsewhere around the world, but says the vast majority of its online services are supported by its own facilities.
The company has built three solar arrays and a fuel-cell plant in North Carolina, a solar array in Nevada, and two micro-hydro systems in Oregon, which use the power of water flowing through local irrigation canals.