Apple plans to power its main data centre entirely with renewable energy by the end of this year, taking steps to address longstanding environmental concerns about the rapid expansion of high-consuming computer server farms.
The maker of the iPhone and iPad said on Thursday it was buying equipment from SunPower Corp and startup Bloom Energy to build two solar array installations in North Carolina, near its core data center.
Once up, the solar farm will supply 84m kWh of energy annually. The sites will employ high-efficiency solar cells and an advanced solar tracking system.
The two solar farms will cover 250 acres, among the largest in the industry, the Apple CFO, Peter Oppenheimer, told Reuters. Apple plans on using coal-free electricity in all three of its data centres, with the Maiden facility coal-free by the end of 2012.
"I'm not aware of any other company producing energy onsite at this scale," Oppenheimer said in a telephone interview.
"The plan we are releasing today includes two solar farms and together they will be twice as big as we previously announced, thanks to the purchase of some land very near to the data centre in Maiden, which will help us meet this goal."
Shares in SunPower leaped more than 10% to close at $5.59 on Thursday.
Concerns about the ever-expanding power consumption of computer data centres have mounted in recent years, as technology giants build enormous facilities housing servers to cater to an explosion in internet traffic, multimedia use and enterprise services hosting, via cloud computing.
"Our next facility will be in Prineville, Oregon. This is still in the planning stages and we have already identified plenty of renewable sources nearby," Oppenheimer said.
"We haven't finalised our plans for on-site generation, but any power we need to run our centre in Prineville that we get from the grid will be 100% renewable and locally generated sources," he said.
Several activist groups have expressed their concerns over the use of "dirty" power by Apple's data centres. Several members of Greenpeace staged a protest this week at Apple's Cupertino campus using a giant "iPod."
Greenpeace, which has also targeted Amazon and Microsoft with clean energy campaigns, saluted Apple's decision.
"Apple's announcement today is a great sign that Apple is taking seriously the hundreds of thousands of its customers who have asked for an iCloud powered by clean energy, not dirty coal," Greenpeace International senior IT asnalyst Gary Cook said in a statement.