In announcing a massive, unprecedented investment in solar power by a private company, Apple’s Tim Cook said yesterday in San Francisco,
“We know in Apple that climate change is real. The time for talk is passed…The time for action is now.”
Here are three reasons the $850 M solar deal with First Solar makes sense:
1. Money saving: Apple signed a 25 year purchase power agreement which will guarantee the tech company a fixed price for solar power, under the market price for energy in California. Solar prices have declined dramatically in the last 40 years (today’s panels are 100 times cheaper than in 1977) and Apple has timed its agreement to profit from this trend.
“We expect to have a very significant savings because we have a fixed price for the renewable energy, and there’s quite a difference between that price and the price of brown energy,” Cook said.
2. Green Halo Effect: Not only will Apple benefit from a “greener than thou” reputation from their existing fans, but will inevitably attract more environmentally conscious consumers, especially Millennials who care deeply how their tech gadgets and the cloud’s data centers are powered. This will help in its battle with arch rival Samsung which it ridiculed last year in a hard hitting ad campaign.
In addition, in the race to attract and retain the top tech talent in Silicon Valley, Apple’s “green reputation” will be powerful.
“Other Fortune 500 CEOs would be well served to make a study of Tim Cook,” Greenpeace said in a statement.
3. Pioneer forClimate Change: Last year, Tim Cook famously told climate skeptics at an Apple shareholder meeting to “get out of Apple stock” if they don’t like his clean energy strategy. His visible passion on the issue revealed how strongly he feels about climate change and his commitment to reduce Apple’s carbon footprint.
“I want leave the world better than we found it,” said Tim Cook.
Under Cook’s leadership, Apple has forged ahead strongly with plans to get 100% of its energy from renewable sources. A massive data center in North Carolina is powered by huge solar farms and Bloom Energy’s fuel cells. I anticipate that Silicon Valley’s Bloom Energy will also be part of Apple’s new clean power strategy in California (check back soon for updates).
Apple’s trend-setting, clean energy market making reputation is already impacting other tech companies such as Facebook, Microsoft, Yahoo and Amazon, although Google gets the greenest star for its early action and massive investment in clean energy of over $1.5B.
Read more about Apple’s Green Halo and its battle with Samsung (BBC conversation)
I recently recorded a story for KQED radio about Apple’s “dirty” iCloud and the more I dug into the issue, the greener the world’s most valuable company appeared to get. By the time I’d finished researching the topic, visiting a local data center, talking with an expert in energy efficiency, and interviewing members of the public at my local Whole Foods store, Apple released a statement announcing it was going “all in.”
“By the end of 2012, we’ll meet the energy needs of our Maiden, North Carolina, data center using entirely renewable sources,” the statement read.
The data center is a LEED Platinum building (the highest rating of the US Green Building Council standards) with an impressive collection of energy efficient design features from a chilled water storage system to a white cool roof which maximizes solar reflection. The whole project looks so “insanely green” it might start to make once green-revered Google turn a shade of (envious) green.
Was it the black balloons released in Apple’s spectacular retail stores in the Bay Area and around the world? The giant iPod “squatting” outside Apple’s Headquarters in Cupertino? The supersize iPhones walking around the campus demanding Apple clean its “dirty” cloud? The slick video or the 200,000+ petitions asking Apple CEO Tim Cook to stop using dirty coal? The environmental group Greenpeace would like to think so.
But it’s likely that none of the above induced Apple to green its cloud. These decisions to install 20 MW of solar arrays (from SunPower) and the largest non-utility fuel cell installation (from Bloom Energy) were years in the making, and the Greenpeace campaign weeks old. But having Greenpeace on its case does appear to have helped Apple discover some transparency in its operations. Something for which it’s not exactly famous. And that transparency will likely spur further clean action from other IT companies.
In a detailed release, Apple explained exactly where the 60% onsite clean energy is coming from and made a public commitment to power the remainder using local and regional clean energy supplies, including NC GreenPower.
In the war of words and facts between the environmentalist group and Apple, prior to the company coming clean, several commentators accused Greenpeace of “doing a Mike Daisey” on Apple. That is, intentionally fabricating the facts to make a stronger case against the tech giant. In the end, Greenpeace spokesperson Gary Cook told me, “We will continue our campaign to push Apple – and other IT giants like Microsoft and Amazon – to clean the cloud until Apple has policies to ensure that they will grow using exclusively clean energy.”
As for Google and the other fast growing cloud users like Amazon and Microsoft, we’ll be watching closely to see if a “greener than thou” race starts warming up. Each leapfrogging the other to out-green their competitor’s data centers. A race for the most insanely green cloud? Bring it on.
“Here in California, we’ve created 1500 clean jobs and we’re going to do the same in Delaware when we build that (30MW) manufacturing facility.” Asim Hussain
Manufacturing in California
The privately held company currently has three manufacturing facilities – including its testing facility – and they employ two Bloom Boxes to power one plant, using a biogas source. They plan to extend that capability to the recently built second plant. Unlike many Silicon Valley companies, manufacturing operations are here in the valley, although they have a global supply chain.
Fresh Dialogues asked about the future of Bloom Electrons, the energy-only purchase model the company announced last year. Instead of paying the hefty $800,000 upfront cost for a Bloom energy server, customers sign a ten-year energy purchase agreement at a fixed price. Hussain confirmed that this model allows Bloom to access a new market segment: the nonprofit sector. The poster child for Bloom Electrons is California Institute of Technology Caltech – which began a 2 MW Bloom installation in 2010. The program has also allowed commercial clients like Walmart to expand their Bloom installations from two to twenty eight stores.
How is Google greening its growing army of Googlers, on and off campus? Biodiesel buses, Google bikes…pogo sticks anyone?
I sat down with Parag Chokshi, Google’s Clean Energy Public Affairs Manager this summer and he explained some of Google’s employee incentives and green practices. Did you know that if you get to the Googleplex under your own steam – walking, running, biking…or on your pogo stick, Google will donate to a charity of your choice? And if you can’t bear to move from your cool pad in San Fran, and the thought of 36 miles on a pogo stick seems a stretch, Google will transport you to work in one of its special biodiesel buses. Wifi equipped of course.
There’s even a sizeable organic vegetable garden on the campus, so if you fancy getting dirt under your finger nails and communing with Mother Earth, Google’s your place.
Of course, Google also fanfares the usual green suspects:
solar power (one of the largest commercial installations in the Bay Area at 1.6 MW or 30% of the complex’s peak power use);
Bloom Energy Boxes (Google was one of the first customers for this efficient fuel cell power source);
But if you think working at Google is just one green Kumbaya center, remember it’s not just a holiday camp…Pay maybe the highest average in the tech industry (2011 Payscale Report) but according to anecdotal evidence and Google’s own job descriptions, expect a high-stress startup environment and the bureaucratic issues typical of any fast growing big company.