You have to see Apple’s Reno, Nevada, data center from the inside to truly understand how huge it is. It’s made up of five long white buildings sitting side by side on a dry scrubby landscape just off I-80, and the corridor that connects them through the middle is a quarter-mile long. On either side are big, dark rooms–more than 50 of them–filled with more than 200,000 identical servers, tiny lights winking in the dark from their front panels. This is where Siri lives. And iCloud. And Apple Music. And Apple Pay.
Powering all these machines, and keeping them cool, takes a lot of power–constant, uninterrupted, redundant power. At the Reno data center, that means 100% green power from three different Apple solar farms.
The nearest one, and the first one built, is the Fort Churchill solar farm an hour southeast in desolate country near the town of Yerington, Nevada, where there’s nothing but flat, dry land bordered by low, jagged hills and blue desert sky. From the main road you can walk up to the fence and look down the seemingly endless lines of solar modules on the other side, with long concave mirrors catching and focusing the sun’s energy into the line of small black photo cells sitting just behind them.
Churchill is representative of the growing number of renewable energy sources that have popped up around Apple’s data centers in recent years. Since these massive computing machines use more power than any other kind of Apple facility, the company worked hard to get them powered by 100% renewable energy, reaching that goal in 2014.
Now Apple says it’s finished getting the rest of its facilities running on 100% green power–from its new Apple Park headquarters, which has one of the largest solar roofs on the planet, to its distribution centers and retail stores around the world. Though the 100% figure covers only Apple’s own operations–not those of of the suppliers and contract manufacturers which do much of the work of bringing its ideas to life–it’s also convinced 23 companies in its supply chain to sign a pledge to get to 100% renewable energy for the portion of their business relating to Apple products.
The achievement is the culmination of a furious effort over the past six years that involved financing, building, or locating new renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind farms, near the company’s facilities Apple says it now has 25 operational renewable energy projects–with 15 more now in construction–in 11 countries. Just eight years ago, only 16% of its facilities were powered by renewable energy. By 2015 that number had increased to 93%, then to 96% in 2016.
Along the way, in 2013, Apple signaled its seriousness about green initiatives by hiring former EPA administrator Lisa Jackson as VP of environment, policy, and social initiatives. CEO Tim Cook wanted Jackson to focus Apple’s environmental initiatives, and perhaps act as a respected emissary to Washington, D.C. She’s done both.
According to Jackson, it would have been easy enough for Apple to trumpet its landmark achievement in renewable energy earlier. “If you look at our trajectory, for the last couple of years we’ve been close to 100%,” she says. “It’s just four percent more, but it’s four percent done the right way. So this announcement feels like a classic Apple product release. Like our products, we sweat the details, we have pretty strict standards, and we prefer to wait and meet our standards than to rush and make a claim.”
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