Plaudits for Apple’s 70MW solar-powered Arizona datacentre

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Plans by Apple to build a solar powered data centre at an Arizona facility once owned by First Solar have been welcomed by environmental advocacy group Greenpeace.

Arizona’s governor Doug Ducey announced yesterday that the global tech and design brand intends to convert its shuttered factory in Mesa, Arizona to a data centre powered by 70MW of on-site PV generation capacity.

The factory will be familiar to regular PV Tech readers – it was owned by First Solar until 2012, when Apple purchased it and leased it to GT Advanced Technologies (GTAT) for the purposes of building sapphire screens for handheld devices. The sapphire deal never came to fruition, leading to hardship for GTAT and a dispute between the two parties. Apple has now decided to fill it with 150 full-time employees and committed to run the data centre 100% from solar. Apple has recently also developed a number of solar farm sites in the US

Ducey said Apple would invest US$2 billion in the site and in the city of Mesa. The governor hailed the tech giant’s decision as “a huge win for Arizona and a high testament to our business-friendly climate and talented workforce”.

An IT sector analyst at Greenpeace, Gary Cook, praised Apple’s decision and said other operators of large data operations should take note and follow Apple’s lead.

“Apple remains the most aggressive among major IT companies in delivering on its commitments to be 100% renewable, and has shown the business community that solar is ready, here and now, to power our economy. Other major data center operators, especially market leader Amazon Web Services, should begin to match the speed and scale of Apple's progress by adopting renewable energy at a pace that matches their growth.”

While governor Ducey was welcoming of Apple’s multi-billion decision to convert the facility, his home state has had a more chequered record on encouraging solar deployment, Greenpeace’s Cook said.

“Arizona has some of the best solar potential in the world – yet Arizona utilities and policy makers have been slow to tap the economic potential of solar, and some are still trying to slow the growth of solar.

“If the Salt River Project [local utility company] can work with Apple to help it power its operations with solar energy, it can surely work with the thousands of Arizona residents and businesses who want to do the same thing. Apple's announcement today should encourage policy makers, regulators, and utilities in Arizona to tap into the state’s huge potential for solar, and turn this resource into an economic driver for growth.”

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