It was a huge day for US commercial solar on Tuesday, with the announcement that tech giant Apple will partner with First Solar to develop an $US850 million solar farm in California, to power its operations in its home state.
The project – which Apple CEO Tim Cook has described as the company’s “biggest and boldest ever” – was announced at the Goldman Sachs Technology and Internet Conference, nearly outshining the other news that Apple had become the first US company to close at more than $700 billion in market value.
Indeed, the 1,300-acre solar farm in Monterey County could be one of the largest solar farms ever built for a commercial purpose, adding 130MW of new solar power to the grid – enough to power about 50,000 California homes.
A commercial offtake agreement means the bulk of the electricity generated by the solar farm will be used to power Apple’s Cupertino headquarters, its data centre in Newark, and all Apple’s offices and 52 stores in the state. Any excess energy produced will be sold to PG&E under a separate PPA.
Construction of the project – which will consist of a mix of fixed-tilt modules and single-axis trackers – is expected to start this year after gaining final approval in January, and is slated to be finished by the end of 2016.
Interestingly, it is to be built on 2,900 acres – or 3 per cent – of a property owned by the Hearst Corporation, known as the Jack Ranch.
And that’s not all. According to Cook, Apple is a week shy of announcing plans to invest $2 billion to build a renewable energy powered global “command center” for its data centre infrastructure in Mesa, Arizona.
Apple’s big news illustrates that the corporate world, if not the political one, has accepted that the future of sustainable business models includes dedicated investment in renewable energy technology.
Obviously, Apple has taken a leadership corporate role on this and is way ahead of most. Other less advanced US corporates, however, can now get advice and stewardship from the newly launched Business Renewables Center (BRC), whose sole purpose is to remove the obstacles preventing corporations from building renewables into their energy profiles.
“Corporations can be a powerful lever for expanding renewable energy in the United States and beyond. They can lock in long-term affordable prices for clean energy that supports the bottom line, reduce their carbon footprint, and fulfil their corporate sustainability commitments,” said RMI Managing Director Hervé Touati.
Apple’s Cook also demonstrated on Tuesday that the corporate world is ahead of many political leaders on another important front – it is not afraid to mention the c-word.
“We know at Apple that climate change is real. Our view is that the time for talk is past and the time for action is now,” Cook told an audience of around 1,000 bankers at the San Francisco conference on Tuesday.
It’s a business approach that has been praised by Greenpeace.
“It’s one thing to talk about being 100% renewably powered, but it’s quite another thing to make good on that commitment with the incredible speed and integrity that Apple has shown in the past two years,” Greenpeace Senior IT Sector Analyst Gary Cook said in a statement on Tuesday.