Apple ad for thin-films job raises speculation around solar-powered devices

  • Apple iPhone with PV panel charger
    Battery life for handheld mobile devices has been a tough challenge for tech companies as processing power has boomed.

Apple has removed a job advertisement it listed last week for thin films engineer for its mobile devices division, raising heated speculation that the company could be planning to develop solar-powered iPhones or iPads.

Candidates were invited to apply if they had "extensive experience with thin-film technologies in either semiconductor processing or solar industries" to "assist in the development and refinement of thin films technologies applicable to electronic systems".

Apple's large-scale investments in solar to power the company's growing data centres are well publicised. The company's first big splash was in North Carolina; a 20MW PV array in Maiden that was completed in 2012. When the second array is finished at the end of this year it will produce 167million kWh a year.

Lisa Jackson, the former chief administrator at the Environmental Protection Agency and now the environmental director at Apple, said at the National Clean Energy Summit last month: "Apple's data centres are 100% powered by renewables, that's not buying credits, that's additional new power that is often direct Apple owned, if not with direct contracts [that's] direct access to power from the sun, hydro, geothermal and wind.

"It's the largest non-utility solar array we think anywhere in the US and it's backed up by fuel cells which run on biogas," she said.

In July, Apple announced it would pay for the construction of the 18MW Fort Churchill Solar Array, a partnership with NV Energy which will supply its data centre in Yerington, Nevada.

"It's going to satisfy our needs but we're also making sure that it's additional," she said. "There's probably going to be some left over NV Energy is going to have the option to buy this array in a couple of years."

Apple's new Spaceship headquarters in Cupertino, California, will have 5MW of PV panels on its roof when it is completed in 2015.

But Apple's suspected development of solar powered devices has so far been much more secretive.

According to 9to5Mac.com, Apple patents came to light in 2011 that were related to solar applications for consumer products and this year a further patent application was lodged for a touch sensor and solar assembly on the display of a mobile device such as an iPhone.

Battery life for handheld mobile devices has been a tough challenge for tech companies as processing power has boomed.

Apple and Samsung are currently evaluating the use of solar panels for future products, according to a report from Digitimes. Apple is reportedly considering the “inclusion of Taiwan-based solar firms in [its] supply chain” which indicates that the company is already selecting its suppliers for these products.

Apple has not commented on the advert and has since removed the listing from its website.

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