Apple to open $2bn solar-powered data center

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Cupertino-based technology company Apple has announced plans to convert a former sapphire factory in Arizona into a new, $2 billion global command data center that will be powered almost entirely by solar power.

The 1.3 million square-foot facility in Mesa is a former First Solar module factory and was previously earmarked as the fab in which GT Advanced Technologies’ (GTAT) would supply Apple with sapphire for its iPhone screens.

However, GTAT filed for bankruptcy protection in October after it emerged that the company would not be able to make good on its promise to produce screens of usable quality for Apple. Despite a generous $100-a-year lease for the facility and a commitment for $578 million in prepayment loans overseen by Apple, GTAT reported in its November 7 filings that the terms of the contract were "onerous and massively one-sided".

Since last Fall, the facility has lain dormant, but Apple yesterday confirmed its intention to convert the building into its chief data hub, employing 150 full-time staff and creating around 500 jobs during the construction phase, which is set to last around a decade.

Apple confirmed its intention to ensure the facility is powered 100% by renewable energy, with the bulk of its power to come from a 70 MW solar PV plant to be built next to the facility.

"We’re proud to continue investing in the U.S. with a new data center in Arizona, which will serve as a command center for our global networks," said an Apple press statement sent to AFP. “Like all Apple data centers, it will be powered by 100% renewable energy, much of which will come from a new local solar farm."

Gary Cook, the senior IT sector analyst at Greenpeace, has lauded Apple’s decision to power its data center with solar energy. "Apple remains the most aggressive among major IT companies in delivering on its commitments to be 100% renewable, and has shown the business community that solar is ready, here and now, to power our economy," Cook said, calling on other tech giants such as Amazon to follow Apple’s lead.

Apple currently owns three large-scale solar farms in the U.S., most recently earning approval to build a 17.5 MW plant in North Carolina.