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Apple’s Data Center and the Clean Energy Paradox

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According to the North Carolina Utility Commission, Apple intends to double the amount of fuel cells it will use at its data center in Maiden, North Carolina. In November, Apple filed to increase its fuel cell size but kept the endeavor completely confidential.

Bloom Energy is installing 50 Bloom boxes for Apple to produce 10 MW of electricity, raising the previous level from 4.8 MW. Since October 2012, Apple has been operating at the 4.8 MW level and expect the new 10 MW farm to be online and operating by January 2013.

Excluding utility companies, Apple’s fuel cell farm will be the largest in the country. eBay may one day compete with Apple since it is building a cell farm for its own data center, but that project has a long way to go. So for now, Apple is takes the lead on fuel cell data centers.

Apple has far reaching plans and intends to sell the power the fuel cells generate to Duke Energy, the largest electric holding company in the United States, meaning Apple may not actually use the energy the fuel cells create for the actual data center. Since the fuel cells use biogas, Apple can turn a profit by selling the renewable energy credits to Duke Energy. Apple may also use its solar farm to generate energy to sell to Duke, but time will tell. In fact, Apple has already increased the solar farm generation from 20MW to 40MW.

But the issue is paradoxical. On one hand, Apple is generating and selling clean power to Duke Energy, but the Apple data center itself is still using power from the grid, and the datacenter is not directly reaping the benefits from the fuel cell farm.

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