The Apple Data Center FAQ, Part 2

We continue with The Apple Data Center FAQ

Is Apple Really Building A Second Data Center in Maiden?

Apple’s building permits in Maiden are split between two addresses on the Apple property, one labeled “Dolphin Project” featuring applications filed in August and September of 2009, and another called “Dolphin Project 2″ with several permit applications in July and August of 2010 (permit links via AppleInsider).

Local officials say Apple’s plans indicate more than one building in Maiden. “Some of the drawings they submitted show a second structure of similar size on the site,” said Scott Millar, the director of economic development for Catawba County. Here’s a look at the original drawings, via the Catawba County Flickr feed.

Site drawings presented by Apple at a July 6, 2009 press conference in Maiden, North Carolina.

Readers at MacRumors took the image and superimposed it over a Google Maps aerial image of the site to depict where the two facilities might be located on the property.

How is Apple Powering its North Carolina Data Center?

In May 2012 Apple announced that the electricity supporting the iDataCenter in Maiden will either be supplied by renewable energy generated on-site, or  by directly purchasing clean, renewable energy generated by local and regional sources.

Apple will supplement its utility power feed from Duke Energy with a 200-acre array of photovoltaic solar panels, as well as  fuel cells from Bloom Energy that will use biogas from nearby landfills to generate electricity. Apple says its generation facilities at the Maiden, N.C. facility will be producing enough on-site renewable energy — 124 million kWh — to power the equivalent of 10,874 homes. That includes the two 100-acre solar arrays, which will each produce 42 million kilowatt-hours (kWh) of energy annually, with another another 40 million kWh supplied by the “Bloom boxes.”

Upon completion, the Apple solar facility will be the largest solar array dedicated to data center operations, surpassing a 14 megawatt array being built to support the McGraw-Hill data center in East Windsor, New Jersey. This map from Apple provides an overview of the Maiden property and the location of its on-site generation facilities.

Apple’s use of fuel cells also appears to be the largest such facility dedicated to a U.S. data center. The facility will use methane from nearby landfills, which will be transported via a natural gas pipeline system, according to a filing with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). The raw biogas will be cleaned and separated to increase the methane content and remove unwanted components (including sulfide, chlorine and sulfur) before being injected into the natural gas pipeline.

The installation is expected to feature 24 200-kilowatt Bloom Energy Servers placed on outdoor pads, according to regulatory filingsBloom Energy is converting a former Chrysler auto assembly plant in Delaware into a manufacturing facility to churn out its Bloom Energy Servers for East Coast customers, including Apple.

The Bloom Energy Server is based on solid oxide fuel cell technology that converts fuel to electricity through an electro-chemical reaction, without any combustion. Because they are housed at the customer premises, the Bloom box can continue operating during grid outages.

Apple’s focus on sustainability extends to the construction methods using in building the Norh Carolina facility. The Apple data center in Maiden has earned Platinum, the highest level attainable under the LEED ( Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) rating system for energy efficient buildings. The company used 14 percent of recycled materials in its construction process, and diverted 93 percent of construction waste from landfills. Apple also sourced 41 percent of purchased materials within 500 miles of the Maiden site, which reduces the environmental impact from trucking materials over long distances.

Why is Greenpeace Criticizing Apple About its Data Center Energy Use?

In April 2011 the environmental group Greenpeace identified Apple as a leading offender in using energy from “dirty” sources to power its data centers, including coal and nuclear power. The group’s finding relied on an estimate by Greenpeace that Apple would consumer as much as 100 megawatts of electricity at its North Carolina data center. A Greenpeace report was sharply critical of the presence of Apple, Google and Facebook in North Carolina, which it labeled the “dirty data triangle” because of their reliance on electricity sourced by coal and nuclear power.

“These mega data centers, which will draw from some of the dirtiest generation mixes in the US, highlights the sway of low-cost energy, misplaced tax incentives, and a corresponding lack of commitment to clean energy,” Greenpeace wrote.

In April 2012, Greenpeace stepped up its criticism of Apple, issuing a second report, How Clean is Your Cloud?, which received widespread media attention. Greenpeace also staged a protest at Apple’s headquarters to draw attention to its critiques of Apple’s power sourcing for its data center. Apple was targeted after it had already announced its plans for on-site renewable energy in Maiden, which Greenpeace belittled as enough to supply just 10 percent of the data center’s power needs, again citing the 100 megawatt estimate.

But Apple responded by disclosing that will use 20 megawatts of power at full capacity in its North Carolina data center, about one-fifth the amount estimated by Greenpeace. “Our data center in North Carolina will draw about 20 megawatts at full capacity, and we are on track to supply more than 60% of that power on-site from renewable sources including a solar farm and fuel cell installation which will each be the largest of their kind in the country,” Apple said in a statement. “We believe this industry-leading project will make Maiden the greenest data center ever built.”

After Apple doubled the size of its planned solar array, Greenpeace offered its first public affirmation of Apple’s sustainability initiatives.

“Apple’s announcement today is a great sign that Apple is taking seriously the hundreds of thousands of its customers who have asked for an iCloud powered by clean energy, not dirty coal,” said Gary Cook, senior IT analyst at Greenpeace. “Apple’s doubling of its solar capacity and investment in local renewable energy are key steps to creating a cleaner iCloud.”

Cook said Greenpeace would continue to pressure Apple to make a deep commitment to renewable energy. “Apple must adopt a firm siting policy to prioritize renewable energy when it chooses locations for new data centers,” he said. “Only then will customers have confidence that the iCloud will continue to get cleaner as it grows.”

Greenpeace has yet to update its cloud scorecard to acknowledge that its estimate of 100 megawatts of power for the iDataCenter may be erroneous.

Continue to the conclusion of the The Apple Data Center FAQ.