Apple and Amazon Commit Big To Solar Power

Apple and Amazon Web Services have entered into long-term solar power purchase agreements.
Published: Mon 23 Feb 2015

Companies such as Google and Microsoft have long been powering their data centres with renewable energy, and the former has committed to achieving 100% renewables for all its power needs. [Engerati-US Data Centres Can Save US$3 billion By Reducing Power Wastage and Google Sees Green]

Now two big industry names, Apple and Amazon Web Services (AWS), have made similar commitments, and are setting themselves on the way with long-term power purchase agreements (PPA) for solar power.

Apple and First Solar

Apple will receive 130MW from First Solar's California Flats Solar Project in Monterey County in California under a 25-year PPA.

Construction of the 1,170ha (2,900-acre) project is expected to begin in mid-2015, and to be completed by the end of 2016. The output of the balance of 150MW of the project will be sold to Pacific Gas & Electric under a separate long-term PPA.

With a commitment of US$848 million from Apple, the companies claim this to be the largest agreement in the industry to provide clean energy to a commercial end user.

“Apple is leading the way in addressing climate change by showing how large companies can serve their operations with 100% clean, renewable energy,” said Joe Kishkill, chief commercial officer for First Solar. “Apple's commitment was instrumental in making this project possible and will significantly increase the supply of solar power in California.”

Apple will use the power from the plant for supply to its new campus in Silicon Valley, as well as its other offices and 52 stores in the state, chief executive Tim Cook told a Goldman Sachs technology conference in San Francisco.

Cook also indicated an expectation of significant savings, according to Reuters. “We have a fixed price for the renewable energy, and there's quite a difference between that price and the price of brown energy,” he was quoted as saying.

Amazon and Pattern Energy

AWS’ PPA is a somewhat more modest 13 years and covers supply of 500,000MWh of energy annually from the now named Amazon Web Services Wind Farm (Fowler Ridge) under development by Pattern Energy Group in Benton County in Indiana.

AWS made a long-term commitment to achieve 100% renewable energy usage for its global infrastructure footprint in November 2014. The PPA is seen an important step toward that goal. The energy will be used to help power both current and future AWS Cloud data centres.

“Amazon Web Services Wind Farm (Fowler Ridge) will bring a new source of clean energy to the electric grid where we currently operate a large number of data centres and have ongoing expansion plans to support our growing customer base,” said Jerry Hunter, Vice President of Infrastructure at Amazon Web Services. “This PPA is one of many sustainability activities and renewable energy projects for powering our data centres that we currently have in the works.”

Construction of the 150MW wind farm should start in April and it is expected to reach commercial operation in late 2015 or early 2016.

With projects such as these a trend is emerging of large, energy intensive technology companies and data centre operators effectively funding renewables development. More such projects are likely in the future.