I can remember driving over to Apple’s Maiden, NC Data Center just after it was completed in 2011. I was working on a project not too far away and thought I would try to get close enough to snap a couple of pictures. Nope. It was basically invisible from the road, hidden by trees and earth walls out front. It was also not inviting, from a security perspective. You can read about my little joyride almost seven years ago here.
However, one thing I did see that day was one of Apple’s first forays into Green Energy. Or at least the humble beginnings of it. They had already begun construction of a large solar farm to power the data center just across the street. Unlike the data center, the few already-installed solar panels were clearly visible from the road.
This solar project and Apple’s intention to power the entire data center using it stood out in 2011, as using Green Energy wasn’t nearly as common at the time as it is today. This was especially true for a high profile Fortune 500 company. If you look back, Apple made the commitment to work toward “net-zero” energy use in their Environmental Responsibility Report back in 2014. They have been slowly closing in on this goal for a few years now, and today they announced that their facilities are all 100% powered by Green Energy sources.
Apple has been a pioneer in this area, and I admire them for it. If you read Fast Company’s article on what they have done, it is quite impressive. Rather than depending on existing Green Energy projects, or waiting for them to appear in places where they didn’t yet exist, Apple built their own in several cases. The result was positive not just for them, but local utilities and their neighbors, as well. Apple’s leadership role has also shown that a profitable company can move to using Green Energy without hurting their bottom line.
Ironically, before reading about Apple reaching this milestone this evening, I spent a good bit of time at work earlier today putting together a presentation for a cutting-edge local architectural firm that is looking to build their own “net-zero” facility. The contracting company that I work for is a Schneider Electric partner, and they and other partners have installed integrated systems in several net-zero and LEED Gold Certified buildings around the world. This is a rapidly growing trend, and it is actually pushing my field of commercial and industrial building automation into a much larger and more integrated role in modern buildings.
What is interesting to me about the presentation I worked on today is that it is still quite novel in my area. Green Energy is available and used in some higher profile projects, and there are a few LEED Silver and Gold buildings. There is at least one or two net-zero facilities around the Memphis area, currently. However, there has been less incentive here in the Mid South and other areas of the Southeastern US because of a simple fact- power is relatively cheap here. Most of us pay somewhere between $0.06 and $0.08 per kW, which is is quite a bit less than what people on the coasts and around other major cities typically pay. This, along with the fact that there are few data centers here, is why green projects are far less pervasive here than in those areas.
However, there is still a certain amount of prestige that comes with LEED Gold certification and net-zero status. There is also a push to build new and retrofit and renovate existing buildings so that their owners and tenants will be able to attract young, tech-savvy workers. Aside from modern amenities and smart features, many of these workers want to know that the buildings they work in are efficient and have a reduced carbon footprint. Because of the leadership role that Apple and a few other major corporations have taken, I think we will see rapid growth in Green Energy projects and availability, even in places like where I live. So while Apple should be congratulated for its own accomplishment, the example it sets should have a far greater impact over time.