Apple to build a 3rd massive solar panel farm in North Carolina

Image courtesy of Apple.

Apple is planning on significantly boosting the number of solar panels being used to power its data center in North Carolina. According to a local news report, Apple is planning on building another 100-acre, 17.5 MW solar panel farm in the nearby city of Claremont, North Carolina. An Apple representative confirmed that the report is accurate.

Apple already has two solar panel farms in the region that power the data center and together these farms produce 40 MW of solar power, and each stretch across about 100 acres. The first solar panel system is located across the street from the data center, and the second one is about a 15-minute drive from the data center nestled behind a neighborhood in Conover, North Carolina.

Apple's solar farm next to its data center in Maiden, North Carolina, image courtesy of Katie Fehrenbacher Gigaom

Apple’s solar farm next to its data center in Maiden, North Carolina, image courtesy of Katie Fehrenbacher Gigaom

By my calculations all together the three solar farms would provide Apple with close to 60 MW of power, in addition to a 10 MW fuel cell farm located behind the data center. The solar panel farms do take up a lot of land, and could operate spread out across some 300-acres of land.

The local Hickory Record broke the news because on Monday night Apple had to get approval from the Claremont City Council for the development agreement with the city. The newspaper said Apple’s initial investment in the third solar panel system could be $55 million, and could provide 75 local jobs.

Apple’s two solar farms were already the largest privately-owned clean energy facilities in the U.S. and represented an entirely new way for an internet company to source and think about power. While other internet companies like Google are spending heavily on clean power, Apple is the only one who has been willing to develop its own power sources. With this third plant, Apple’s solar commitment in the state will dwarf other privately owned facilities.

Apple's second solar farm in Conover, North Carolina

Apple’s second solar farm in Conover, North Carolina, image courtesy of Katie Fehrenbacher, Gigaom

The move is also an indicator that Apple’s decision to build its own power sources (they contract with solar project developer and solar gear maker SunPower) is working for the company; it simply wants to do more of it.

Because of state laws, the energy from the solar farms is being pumped into the power grid, and Apple then uses the energy it needs from the grid. This setup also means Apple doesn’t need large batteries, or other forms of energy storage, to keep the power going when the sun goes down and its solar panels stop producing electricity.

Apple is also building clean energy resources in Nevada to power its data center there. All told, Apple wants to have 100 percent of its data centers run on renewable energy sources in the next few years. In response to the news that Apple will build a third solar farm, Greenpeace released a statement that said:

Jeff Bezos should take notice of Tim Cook’s leadership as Apple proves that we can power our online lives with renewable energy, leaving Amazon further in the dust.

Check out my previous articles on Apple and solar, as well as data centers, clean power and North Carolina:

And from a trip to the North Carolina data center cluster in 2012:

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