Apple Building Big Solar Farm In Nevada

Already a significant solar player in North Carolina, where two 20-megawatt arrays feed a data center, Apple is taking on a big photovoltaic project in Nevada – this one 18 megawatts – to help power a new Reno-area data center.

Apple said in statement reported initially by GigaOm that a “137 acre solar array will generate approximately 43.5 million kilowatt hours of clean energy.” At Nevada’s average commercial electricity rate of 9 cents per kilowatt-hour, that’s $3.9 million worth of electricity every year. The Reno Gazette-Journal reported that the project would go up “in Yerington, south of the data center Apple is building outside Reno.”

sunpower apple reno

A C7 Tracker solar array (image via SunPower)

Tech giants doing renewable energy for their data centers is beginning to be a bit of an old story, but there do appear to be a couple of interesting aspects to this one.

First, the local utility company, NV Energy, said that this would be the first project under its new Green Energy Program. As the Gazette-Journal described it, “Apple will take on all costs and risks. It also will get credit for the plant’s contributions to the state’s renewable portfolio standard.”

In a statement, NV Evergy’s CEO and president, Michael Yackira, said the Green Energy Program “allows customers such as Apple to choose to have a greater proportion of their energy coming from renewables than the law requires, without having a cost impact on our other customers.”

This arrangement brings to mind Google’s push for a “renewable energy tariff” in North Carolina, in which the cost of bringing new renewable energy generation online would be passed on directly to the party seeking the clean energy.” In April, Duke Energy agreed to pursue such a tariff in building renewable resources that will power an expanded Lenoir, N.C., data center of Google’s.

A second interesting aspect of Apple’s Nevada solar project: GigaOm reported ”Apple is actually planning to use a new type of technology for the solar system, which includes both solar panels and also mirrors that concentrate the sun’s rays up to seven times onto the panels.” This a reference to SunPower’s C7 tracker, a low-concentration system that SunPower confirmed on its Facebook page would be used in the Nevada project.

SunPower introduced this product a year and a half or so ago and last September it announced that Tucson Electric Power would use 6 megawatts worth of it in a project. The C7 Tracker combines SunPower’s customary horizontal, single-axis tracker with rows of parabolic mirrors that reflect light onto solar cell receivers. Concentrating PV systems work especially well in areas of high solar irradiance – like Arizona and Nevada. SunPower says it’s a utility power plant price buster, beating competing technologies by “up to 20 percent.”

Sports columnist, newspaper desk guy, website managing editor, wine-industry PR specialist, freelance writer—Pete Danko’s career in media has covered a lot of terrain. The constant along the way has been a fierce dedication to knowing the story and getting it right. Danko's work has appeared in Wired, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.

  • Daniel Higgins

    Your report says “43.5 kilowatt hours” while the original story reports ’43.5 million kilowatt hours’. That’s a pretty large typo!

    • Pete Danko

      Oops. Fixed. Thanks!
      Pete

  • Alec Sevins

    Yet another land-hungry “green” project. There are millions of existing roofs that could accommodate solar panels. It’s a travesty to eat up open space for these projects, generally speaking (Apple’s case is technically unique).

    Imagine a future with many more such projects as the desert continues to lose its wide-open character to industrialization. The allure of distant “empty” spaces, even if one never visits them, is integral to the quality of life for many people. Constantly expanding the human footprint is not true progress.

    Same goes for wind turbines, and it’s worse because they are visible at much greater distances, and audible, too.

  • Jerry Graf

    Per the reference article…………………”Apple is one of the first companies to take advantage of a new GREEN TARIFF (emphasis mine) approved by Nevada’s utility commission that will enable Apple to pay for the cost of building the solar panel farm.”
    What exactly is this “green tariff”, and how much is the 37 acre 18-20 MW solar array going to cost? The claim is that it will produce $3.9 million worth of electricity per year; but the actual cost is not given for comparison.

    • Pete Danko

      Poked around trying to find out but couldn’t get anything. The Reno paper reported: “The solar array’s construction cost is confidential, but Apple will take on all costs and risks.”

      • Jerry Graf

        If Apple is being altruistic and donating their money to solar panels, regardless of cost effectiveness and payback, then this is their business. I have my suspicions regarding their altruism, however, and I suspect it will be the taxpayers and rate-payers of Nevada that are going to wind up footing the bill for this via some green energy feed-in-tariff shell game.

        • Pete Danko

          The details of how it plays out — the NV Energy lease, the eventual purchase, etc. — are important. But strictly regarding Apple: Apple is heavily invested from a marketing/PR standpoint in powering its data center’s 100 percent from renewables. They seem to have determined that there’s a value return in that for them. I think it’s about marketing, not altruism.