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Apple Adds Solar, Fuel Cells in Quest for Biggest Everything

Apple Inc.'s Plans for Maiden, North Carolina

Apple Inc. plans for a $1 billion dollar data center in Maiden, North Carolina. Courtesy Catawba County, North Carolina

By Tom Randall Feb 23, 2012 9:28 AM MT

Apple is the world’s biggest company by market size, the biggest buyer of semi-conductors, the biggest maker of smartphones, and, if you include iPads, the biggest maker of personal computers.

The company is about to add a few more superlatives to the list: America’s biggest producer of on-site solar and fuel-cell power.

Both energy projects are part of the ongoing construction of Apple’s 500,000 square-foot data center, in Maiden, North Carolina. The facility, Apple’s biggest, will help feed Apple’s data-hungry iCloud online storage system and SIRI voice-recognition software. It recently earned LEED Platinum certification from the U.S. Green Building Council, becoming the biggest data farm in the world to earn the top environmental credential, the company reported this week.

Apple is vying with competitors like Google and Facebook to maintain cheap data storage rates while taking advantage of tax benefits by financing renewable energy projects. Demand for Apple’s data services have skyrocketed in recent years. The most recent model of iPhone, the i4S, doubled data use compared with the previous model.

The data center in Maiden will include a 100-acre, 20-megawatt solar array that supplies 42 million kilowatt-hours of energy a year. The biogas-powered fuel-cell installation will generate 5 megawatts of continuous power, adding another 40 million kWh. Combined, the output is equal to 17 percent of Apple’s worldwide energy use last year.

Facilities account for just 2 percent of the Apple’s global carbon footprint, according to the company. The rest comes from production and recycling of products, transportation, and iPhone batteries drained by people watching puppy videos.

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