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Gigaom checks out Apple NC data center's renewable-energy infrastructure

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Images by Katie Fehrenbacher, Gigaom

Apple's huge Maiden, NC, data center has recently become something else -- a net power provider of clean energy to Duke Energy. Gigaom's Katie Fehrenbacher took a look at Apple's new power-production facilities, which generate a total of 50 MW (megawatts) of electricity for a data center that uses about 40 MW of power.

There's a 100-acre, 20 MW photovoltaic solar farm right next to Apple's data center, a second 20 MW solar farm about 15 miles away from the center, and a 10 MW fuel cell farm that's also adjacent to the data center.

The solar farms use huge arrays of photovoltaic cells that tilt to follow the sun during the day. Grass was planted underneath the arrays, and Apple contracts with a local company to have sheep keep the grass neatly clipped (and presumably to fertilize it...).

The fuel-cell farm is rather compact, and uses biogas to fuel the big cells. The fuel cells are manufactured and operated by Bloom Energy of Sunnyvale, Calif., and use a chemical reaction to convert the methane in biogas and oxygen in the air to create electricity, heat, water and CO2 as side products.

All in all, Fehrenbacher's investigative report is a fascinating look at how Apple has chosen to dive into the world of clean energy production with enthusiasm.

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