updated 11:00 pm EDT, Thu April 24, 2014
Part of environmental PR push, features rare inside look
On Thursday, NBC's venerable "Today" show featured a segment, covered by the network's chief environmental correspondent Anne Thompson, highlighting Apple's push for all-renewable energy sources for its data farms. The report, which ran about two and a half minutes, showcased the solar energy and fuel cells used at the iPhone maker's Maiden, North Carolina center, which is thought to be the main resource for iCloud and Siri among other Internet-related services.
While walking around the solar installation, Thompson chatted with Apple Vice President of Environmental Initiatives, Lisa Jackson -- who was herself a former chief administrator of the federal Environmental Protection Agency. Jackson reiterated the theme of Apple's recent Tim Cook-narrated "Better" video on the company's green progress, saying that Apple wanted both its own efforts and those of competitors in the electronics industry to "leave it better than we found it," and prove that renewable energy can work on a large scale for America's industries. Matt Lauer, in introducing the segment, noted that Apple was "always an innovator" and referred to the Maiden site as "a different kind of Apple farm."
Thompson began by asking Jackson if it was possible for the entire Internet to use renewable resources to power itself, to which Jackson said "sure." The Maiden solar farm is presently the nation's largest privately-owned solar facility. Data centers, Thompson said, were "blue-ribbon energy hogs" that in total use about two percent of the entire US' energy output. The Maiden facility itself uses -- and generates -- enough power to run 14,000 homes.
She also mentioned that while Yahoo, Google and Facebook all use at least some renewable resources to power their data centers, "only Apple is using 100 percent renewable power." Writer Steven Levy, who has spent years reporting on technology, pointed out that the iPhone makers' initiative on the issue is opening eyes to larger-scale renewable power projects. "If [Apple] can get all the power they need from renewable sources," he said, "that is a green light for the rest of us to say 'why don't we do that for other things?'"
The promised look inside the facility was brief, and resembled the structure of most other data centers, with tall towers of stacked servers humming away vociferously. Jackson told Thompson the temperature was 103 degrees inside, which is why data centers use so much power -- they must keep the servers cool so that they perform at maximum efficiency.
The facility actually creates more power than it uses, returning the excess capacity "back to the grid" for other customers to use. By law, usually energy companies are required to pay individuals and companies that return more power than they use, though the money involved would not be significant compared to the initial costs. Apple will save over the long term on power usage and expenses associated with environmental offsets, and generated additional jobs in maintaining and managing the combination of solar arrays and biogas fuel cells.
Apple has been promoting its environmental efforts more heavily as some of the most ambitious projects -- such as the Maiden plant -- come to fruition. It has also recently launched an expanded global recycling program, has put pressure on suppliers to adhere to earth-friendly practices, and announced plans to make its retail stores run on renewable power where possible.