Apple and First Solar Strike a Deal

With the ultimate goal of powering all of its corporate offices, retail stores, and data centers entirely with energy from renewable sources, Apple committed $848 million on Feb. 10 toward First Solar’s 280-MW California Flats Solar Project in Monterey County, Calif.

The project will occupy 2,900 acres of land owned by Hearst Corp. in Cholame. Apple will receive 130 MW from the site under a 25-year power purchase agreement (PPA), while the remaining output from the project will be sold to Pacific Gas & Electric under a separate long-term PPA.

The deal is far from the first investment Apple has made in renewables. The company already has the nation’s largest privately owned onsite solar array at its Maiden, N.C., data center. It’s also not the first big investment in renewables by a successful technology company. (Google holds a major stake in the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System, POWER’s 2014 Plant of the Year.)

Solar is also not the only renewable source Apple has tapped into. At its data center in Prineville, Ore., the company is using wind power, and it’s also building a micro‑hydro system near the facility that will be powered by water flowing through local irrigation canals. Another example is its Reno, Nev., data center, which sources geothermal energy purchased from the local utility. The company also has the largest non-utility fuel cell installation in the country, and uses advanced chilled water storage systems that cool water with the night air and during cool-weather hours, avoiding the use of electric coolers 75% of the time.

Energy efficiency initiatives have also helped Apple improve its carbon footprint. In 2013, Apple reported powering 100% of its data centers and 86% of its corporate campus with renewable energy.

“Apple is leading the way in addressing climate change by showing how large companies can serve their operations with 100 percent clean, renewable energy,” Joe Kishkill, First Solar’s chief commercial officer, said in a press release. “Apple’s commitment was instrumental in making this project possible and will significantly increase the supply of solar power in California. Over time, the renewable energy from California Flats will provide cost savings over alternative sources of energy as well as substantially lower environmental impact.”

This deal marks the first wholesale commercial and industrial PPA executed by First Solar. The company has developed and operates more than 10 GW of grid-connected photovoltaic power plants worldwide.

Aaron Larson, associate editor (@AaronL_Power, @POWERmagazine)

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