Leading the data centre news headlines these days are lots of reports of companies adding renewable energy sources in order to supplement power purchased off the grid. The latest of these stories comes by way of Apple purchasing a new hydro-electric power facility very near to its Prineville data centre in Oregon, United States. Local media said that the company acquired the 45 mile hydro-electric plant late last year.
The plant had originally been under development by EBD Hydro, a local company headquartered in central Oregon. EBD Hydro was established in 2010, since appearing to have made great strides in achieving its business goals. Nonetheless, development and ownership of the plant was transferred to Apple last December.
It has been estimated that 45 Mile Hydro-electric can generate up to 5 MW of power at current capacity. That's not nearly enough for the power and cooling needs of a facility like that Prineville data centre, which requires 30 to 40 MW at full power. This has led to speculation that Apple plans to increase the plant's output over time however no one knows for sure if it will.
Apple has already said that it plans to eventually power the entire data centre with 100% renewable energy. It already has a head-start by purchasing power from a state programme known as Direct Access. This non-coal power allows Apple to opt out of purchasing fossil fuel-generated power off the grid yet it makes no sense for the company to continue doing so. If it is willing to invest in its own hydro-electric plant, it stands to reason that Apple would be willing to do much more.
The Prineville data centre is just the latest in Apple's continually expanding portfolio. The company’s first data centre was opened in North Carolina four years ago and new server farms are currently being built in Prineville and Reno. There is even speculation that Apple is planning to set up operations in Europe and Asia in the near future.
A New Business Model
Apple's foray into hydro-electric power is food for some very interesting thought. Remember, Apple is not the only company going down this route. Google, Microsoft and a number of other technology companies are already heavily invested in renewable power sources covering the entire spectrum, from solar to wind to bio-fuels. Could this be the beginning of a new business model?
Companies like Apple are quickly approaching the tipping point where their current technology will not be able to sustain the sales numbers necessary for continued growth. The slow but very steady decline of traditional computer sales is evidence of this new paradigm. Perhaps technology companies will start focusing on renewable energy as a new revenue stream and an area ripe for expansion.
It would be interesting to see a new battle between Apple and Microsoft over which company has created the most efficient renewable energy source. We can imagine the marketing that would go along with such a battle… it is both amusing and interesting at the same time.