Apple is buying up a hydro-electric project in Oregon, hoping to lock into an environmentally sustainable way of powering its massive data centers.
The project, built by Earth By Design (EBD), a Oregon-based developer of green energy, uses small Kaplan turbines built adjacent to a local irrigation canal. The idea is to generate power without the large-scale environmental disruptions associated with monster dams. Terms of the agreement — including what Apple is paying for the system — have not been disclosed.
According to a regulatory filing, the project will generate 5 megawatts of power, enough electricity to power a small town, but a fraction of what Apple’s Prineville, Oregon, data center will ultimately require. As users increasingly store their data and photos in the iCloud, Apple has been forced to rapidly ramp up the number of servers it runs in the iCloud. IN the past few years, the company has developed new data centers in Prineville, Maiden, North Carolina, and Reno, Nevada.
Apple took ownership of the EBD project late last year, but news of the deal wasn’t reported until a local paper, the Bend Bulletin reported it over the weekend. According to the Bulletin, the dam diverts water from a nearby canal “for approximately half a mile before running it through a hydroelectric turbine and discharging it back into the canal.”
Over the past few years, Apple has gone from being a laggard to a leader in finding green ways to power its data centers. According to Greenpeace analyst Gary Cook, technology companies have turned to solar and wind to power their data centers, but Apple is breaking new ground. “This is certainly the first time I’ve seen this being this done by a private company and not a utility,” he says.
Cook agrees that this type of small-scale hydro project is better for the environment than something like a Hoover Dam. “This project appears to be very much in line with best practice hydro generation, it’s smaller-scale, but it’s sustainable,” he says.
Apple didn’t have any comment on the deal, but a company spokesman referred us to a company environmental report, which says that, in Oregon, Apple will “purchase power from local wind, solar, and micro-hydro resources. The micro-hydro projects will generate power from water flowing through irrigation canals, which are already part of the agricultural framework of Oregon.” EBD declined to comment for this story.
Apple’s Turn-AroundThree years ago, Apple’s Data centers received pretty bad marks from the environmentalists at Greenpeace. The big problem: Apple was powering its legions of cloud computers with dirty energy, supplied by coal-burning companies such as North Carolina’s Duke Energy.
Since then, Apple has done a lot to scrub its image. Greenpeace now considers it one of the best examples of an environmentally responsible data center operator.
“It shows that companies who are motivated can look at what resources are around then and figure out how to get renewable energy,” says Greenpeace’s Cook.