Apple’s $1 billion data center in North Carolina powers iTunes and iCloud.
We told you in October about a 174-acre solar farm Apple reportedly started building to power the new Maiden, N.C., data center facility. Surrounding the facility will be the largest end user–owned onsite solar array in the United States. It will consist of a 100-acres and a 20-megawatt facility to provide approximately 42 million kWh of clean, renewable energy each year. The company’s 2012 Environmental Update from two weeks ago revealed plans for another five-megawatt non-utility fuel cell installation—the nation’s biggest—right next to the data center.
Supposedly running on biogas made from landfill waste and carbon-neutral, it will offer 40 million kWh of 24×7 baseload renewable energy every year. Now, GigaOM has it “from a couple sources” that Apple commissioned fuel cell maker Bloom Energy to supply the firm with fuel cells for the facility. Apparently, Apple already has “a few Bloom fuel cells running on its campus.”
Bloom’s fuel cells are large boxes that suck up oxygen on one side and fuel (natural gas or biogas) on the other to produce power. That means that with the fuel cells (and a solar array that will be built) Apple’s data center will have a source of cleaner distributed power that isn’t coming from the local utility via the grid. Bloom offers boxes capable of supplying 100 kW, which could translate into 50 Bloom Boxes being installed at Apple’s data center.
Each Bloom Box costs $700,000 to $800,000 and takes about as much room as a parking space. The Bloom Boxes are approximately 67 percent cleaner than a typical coal-fired power plant or the grid, and 12 were installed at Adobe’s San Jose campus. Bloom Energy also has deals with Bank of America (500 kW), Coca-Cola (500 kW), FedEx (500 kW), Staples (300 kW), Cox Enterprises, and Walmart (800 kW), in addition to various telcos and Silicon Valley giants, such as eBay (500 kW) and Google (400 kW). The firm is also in talks to build a 30 MW fuel cell farm consisting of 300 Bloom Boxes in Delaware.
CEO K.R. Sridhar founded the Sunnyvale, Calif.-headquartered fuel cell maker in 2002. Originally called “Ion America,” it was renamed to Bloom Energy in 2006. Now, what is interesting about Bloom Energy is that the company was funded by Apple’s old pal, venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins...
Watchful readers would know that Kleiner Perkins collaborated with Apple in 2008 on a $200 million fund dubbed “iFund” with the goal of investing in startups focused on iPhone software development. The fund played an important role in the early stages of the App Store and iPhone software by helping incubate and spin-off a number of successful iPhone developers, such as Ngmoco. According to CBS News, Bloom Energy’s Sridhar met with Kleiner Perkins’ John Doerr about a decade ago to ask for more than $100 million to start the company (Disclosure: Doerr also funded Netscape, Amazon and Google).
Bloom Energy would later score a $400 million funding deal from various venture capitalists, including Kleiner Perkins and Vinod Khosla. Another interesting tidbit: Former Secretary of State Colin Powell, who is also a limited partner for Kleiner Perkins, joined the company’s board of directors in 2009. Why? Well, Bloom Boxes are lighter, more efficient and generate less heat than the gear the military currently uses.
Sridhar said his goal is to bring Bloom Boxes to Africa and other third-world countries and mass market them so that each household could afford to buy one. In order for that to happen, the box should cost no more than $3,000 a piece. The CEO is adamant the price target will be met in 5-to-10 years time. For more information, consult Fortune’s interview with Sridhar dated February 2010.
According to Apple’s website, the company’s facilities in Sacramento, Austin, Cork and Munich are 100 percent powered by renewable energy sources, so it is not terribly surprising that Apple is exploring clean energy options for the North Carolina facility.
Included below is a pair of clips highlighting Bloom Energy Servers.