Apple to build $2B solar-powered “command center” data center at Arizona factory site

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The question of what Apple plans to do with its factory in Mesa, Arizona, which it was going to lease to now-bankrupt former partner and sapphire glass maker GT Advanced Technologies, is now answered. On Monday Apple and the Governor of Arizona, Doug Ducey, announced that the iPhone giant plans to spend $2 billion building out a huge data center facility that will act as “a command center” for its global data center network.

The project is one of the largest investments that Apple has ever made and when completed it will add over 600 engineering and construction jobs. Apple plans to start building the facility as soon as it has control of it from GT Advanced Technologies, and it said that while the project has a 30-year timeline, it will ramp up quickly.

The 1.3 million-square-foot manufacturing facility was previously owned by solar panel maker First Solar, which never used the site after it scaled back its manufacturing in 2012. When Apple announced it planned to buy the site in late 2013 to lease to GT, there was much rejoicing in Arizona, as the sapphire glass factory was going to lead to 1,400 construction and the cachet of having Apple in town. Apple reportedly wanted to use the ultra strong sapphire glass for unbreakable touch screens.

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

But about a year after the deal between Apple and GT was announced, GT filed for bankruptcy, siting oppressive and burdensome terms and obligations around its deal with Apple. GT said it was shutting down the factory, winding down operations and letting go many employees. Apple said in a release today that it has worked with its local partners to help about half of the employees that were let go because of the bankruptcy to find new employment.

Apple says the data center facility in Arizona will be powered completely by clean energy, including new solar plants developed with local utility Salt River Project. The solar plants will provide 70 MW of solar power for Apple, which is enough solar energy for 14,500 Arizonan homes. Apple also has clean energy powered data centers in North Carolina and Nevada.

Greenpeace applauded Apple’s 100 percent clean energy-powered facility on Monday. Apple execs said that 70 MW worth of new solar farms could also help spur Arizona’s solar market.

Read more about Apple’s ground-breaking bet on its clean energy infrastructure in this post from last year.

4 Comments

Jack Farrell

You can bet that Google will do the same. The Phoenix metropolitan area is a great place for a server-farm, provided the server-farm is above high water and the solar-farm is above high water and.. hard to dust-storms

Ray Boggs

Large projects like these or even smaller residential solar projects should consider the use of new lower cost higher efficiency Hyper X 2 solar panels that produce energy from both sides of the solar panels. This advanced technology has been around for the past 6 years but it was always considered to be far too expensive to install. Now because of new technological advances Hyper X 2 Bifacial solar panels can be purchased at a much lower cost than many standard single sided solar panels.

Instead of boxy looking 1 1/2 to 2 inch thick framed Gen 1 solar panels, these new higher performance Gen 2 solar panels are only 1/4 inch thin and are made with a stronger, see through, glass on glass, frameless, construction that allows sunlight to pass through and reflect off the roof’s surface, thus illuminating the backside of the double sided solar cells, producing additional power.

The new 300 Watt, 60 cell solar panels that are used in Hyper X 2 solar systems offers a better PTC to STC ratio “Real World” performance according to the California Energy Commission’s performance rating listings than over 119 of SunPower’s solar panel models.

And they offer a very high 94.3% PTC to STC performance ratio. They also offer a heat resistant -0.28%/degree C temperature coefficient for better performance in warm/hot climates. And a minus 60 degree C extreme cold temperature rating. And when it comes to aesthetics, nothing even comes close to Hyper X 2’s panel’s glass on glass, see through, frameless construction.

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