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Apple's solar farm will have high-efficiency panels, to open as soon as October

post #1 of 24
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A regulatory filing shows that Apple's solar farm for powering its server farm in Maiden, N.C., will utilize high-efficiency panels from SunPower and could begin operation as early as October.

The San Jose Mercury News uncovered Apple's filing, which reportedly reveals that San Jose-based SunPower had won the contract, on Tuesday. Apple apparently plans to self-finance the project and is aiming for at least 14 photovoltaic installations on the solar farm.

"Each of the photovoltaic installations will consist of multiple SunPower E20 435-watt photovoltaic modules on ground-mounted single axis tracking systems," the Cupertino, Calif., company's filing with the North Carolina Utilities Commission read.

Both Apple and SunPower declined to comment on the report.

Apple did, however, reveal last month in a Facilities Environmental Report that its North Carolina facilities will represent the largest solar and fuel cell end user-owned plants in the U.S. when they are finished. According to the company, the data center will draw a "high percentage" of renewable energy for its power needs.




Using Apple's own figures, environmental activist group Greenpeace has estimated that the solar farm and fuel cell installation will provide just 9.8 percent of the data center's energy demands.

People familiar with the matter indicated to AppleInsider last year that Leaf Solar Power would also be involved in the project, though the company's exact involvement was not immediately apparent. Bloom Energy is believed to be providing the fuel cells for the facility.

Apple's Maiden data center is a 500,000 square-foot facility and the largest in the region. The company has said the server farm supports its iTunes and iCloud services.

Last month, Apple revealed plans to build another "green" data center, this time in Prineville, Oregon. The company declined to confirm further details of the project, though country records show that Apple has purchased a 160-acre plot of land for $5.6 million.

[ View article on AppleInsider ]
post #2 of 24
Quote:
Originally Posted by AppleInsider View Post

..."Each of the photovoltaic installations will consist of multiple SunPower E20 435-watt photovoltaic modules on ground-mounted single axis tracking systems," the Cupertino, Calif., company's filing with the North Carolina Utilities Commission read.

To me, the big news is that the panels will track the sun. Even though only on single axis mounts, the efficiency of the system will be at a nice premium over the statically mounted panels used almost exclusively in non-dedicated solar power systems such as in homes.
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post #3 of 24
Seriously do we expect Apple to go out and shop for low efficiency panels? Fact is solar electric is still marginal as far as cost effectiveness goes so you need to implement the best tech available to have any hope of having competitive power.

All of this does make me wonder why no attempt at wind power has been made. Maybe the sight is bad for that but Wind power is at least economical.
post #4 of 24
Sorry, but this could not be further from the truth. Solar power is economical today. Please do some research before spouting off nonsense as gospel, please. You seem to acknowledge the center is poorly located for wind power and yet somehow believe it's more economical than solar. Not sure where your brain is at.

Quote:
Originally Posted by wizard69 View Post

Seriously do we expect Apple to go out and shop for low efficiency panels? Fact is solar electric is still marginal as far as cost effectiveness goes so you need to implement the best tech available to have any hope of having competitive power.

All of this does make me wonder why no attempt at wind power has been made. Maybe the sight is bad for that but Wind power is at least economical.
post #5 of 24
Solar power actually pays off in a matter of a few years from the initial investment even for private use. Given the high usage these panels will get, they will pay off quickly enough. As for the actual payoff in terms of reduced carbon emissions however, it's not quite as good. But then so is wind power, which has a lot of gray energy before actually being productive itself.

Last but not least, this is first and foremost an example which others hopefully will follow.
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post #6 of 24
Quote:
Originally Posted by multifoiled View Post

Sorry, but this could not be further from the truth. Solar power is economical today. Please do some research before spouting off nonsense as gospel, please. You seem to acknowledge the center is poorly located for wind power and yet somehow believe it's more economical than solar. Not sure where your brain is at.

I buy and install solar panels for a living. If you've ever read an article on the topic on the Wikipedia, I probably wrote it.

Sorry, but PV is *not* competitive. Right now it costs about 25 cents a kWh, which is almost certainly more than what you pay for retail electricity where you are, let alone on the wholesale side. Wind is generally quoted at 12 cents.

The difference, of course, is that PV continues to fall in price at a rate never before seen in the history of power. The introduction of advanced generators in the late 1800s is the closest one comes, as they improved the efficiency about 10 times over a period of 15 years. For comparison, the price of PV has fallen 70% in the last two years, which represents a much faster rate.

So then the question for everyone is whether or not this rate will continue. If it does, then PV will be about 15 cents in 2015/6, and 10 cents in 2020. Then it is indeed economical, practically anywhere. Time will tell.
post #7 of 24
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Originally Posted by G-News View Post

Solar power actually pays off in a matter of a few years from the initial investment even for private use.

No it does not.

You can do the calculation yourself, its very easy. Go here

http://matter2energy.wordpress.com/2...ity-pv-system/

Quote:
Originally Posted by G-News View Post

As for the actual payoff in terms of reduced carbon emissions however, it's not quite as good. But then so is wind power, which has a lot of gray energy before actually being productive itself..

Solar panels made from coal-fired electricity pay off in about 3 years. Those made in Europe or Canada where the percentage of hydro and nuclear is higher pay off in just over 1 year.
post #8 of 24
Quote:
Originally Posted by Maury Markowitz View Post

No it does not.

You can do the calculation yourself, its very easy. Go here

http://matter2energy.wordpress.com/2...ity-pv-system/



Solar panels made from coal-fired electricity pay off in about 3 years. Those made in Europe or Canada where the percentage of hydro and nuclear is higher pay off in just over 1 year.

Alright, I stand corrected then, as usual on these forums. The situation in the states is of course a different one than what we have here in Europe. Firstly, power is a lot more expensive and solar power has been subsidized heavily by several goverments during the past years, bringing the cost equation down considerably. Lastly I was basing my statements on mobile solar power modules, where installation and inverter costs/losses fall away and the corresponding alternative is batteries, which of course are a lot more expensive than grid power.
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post #9 of 24
I live about 20 minutes from the site and I'm lucky enough to be able to watch this being built. Right now it looks like they are still grading. Before they started, the site was wooded (a typical NC mix of hardwoods and pines) and made of slightly rolling hills. They've cleared it and are grading it flat. There are two roads that go by the site. On the smaller road they have built up a berm that blocks the view, but from the 4-lane highway you can still see a good bit. I'm mildly surprised that they plan to be done by October.

As to some of the questions above. I'm no solar expert, but the tracking is probably needed. This part of NC doesn't get massive amounts of sunlight like out West. We're not perpetually cloud covered, but it's not the desert.

Also, the wind here in the Piedmont is not steady like it is up in the Appalachian mountans. I'm betting they looked at wind vs. solar on that site and decided solar made more sense.
post #10 of 24
Quote:
Originally Posted by Maury Markowitz View Post

No it does not.

You can do the calculation yourself, its very easy. Go here

http://matter2energy.wordpress.com/2...ity-pv-system/



Solar panels made from coal-fired electricity pay off in about 3 years. Those made in Europe or Canada where the percentage of hydro and nuclear is higher pay off in just over 1 year.

Enjoyed scanning (for now) your article. Do you have a pdf available? (Time poor right now )

Quote:
Originally Posted by G-News View Post

Alright, I stand corrected then, as usual on these forums. The situation in the states is of course a different one than what we have here in Europe. Firstly, power is a lot more expensive and solar power has been subsidized heavily by several goverments during the past years, bringing the cost equation down considerably. Lastly I was basing my statements on mobile solar power modules, where installation and inverter costs/losses fall away and the corresponding alternative is batteries, which of course are a lot more expensive than grid power.

My mains connected system is returning about US$3,700 per year, as I currently receive the equivalent of just under US$0.50 per kWhr. I originally hoped to pay my system off in about 9 years but that is happening much faster now. It's nice to receive bills each two months that are in positive territory. Only at the height of winter do I go a little into the red. \
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post #11 of 24
Quote:
Originally Posted by G-News View Post

Solar power actually pays off in a matter of a few years from the initial investment even for private use.

What do you mean by a few? As opposed to many?

From what I have heard, the payback needs decades, even with optimisic projections as to future electricity prices..

I'd love to see a reliable cite as to the payback period. Got one? Got many?
post #12 of 24
Quote:
Originally Posted by Maury Markowitz View Post

I buy and install solar panels for a living. If you've ever read an article on the topic on the Wikipedia, I probably wrote it.

Sorry, but PV is *not* competitive. Right now it costs about 25 cents a kWh, which is almost certainly more than what you pay for retail electricity where you are, let alone on the wholesale side. Wind is generally quoted at 12 cents.


When you quote price/kWh, is that the initial capital investment or the return over the life of the system?

What is the current investment per kW of capacity?
post #13 of 24
VERY cool Apple. A great start - keep it coming.
post #14 of 24
Quote:
Originally Posted by wizard69 View Post

Seriously do we expect Apple to go out and shop for low efficiency panels? Fact is solar electric is still marginal as far as cost effectiveness goes so you need to implement the best tech available to have any hope of having competitive power.

All of this does make me wonder why no attempt at wind power has been made. Maybe the sight is bad for that but Wind power is at least economical.

Our city (Saskatoon - in Saskatchewan - Don't listen to Ellen on how to pronounce that) looked into wind power, which was blocked by a community due to health concerns.

Also, when its windy, they are great. When its not the blades stop and it takes energy to start them up again. If its windy one day calm the next, etc., its not exactly reliable nor overly cost effective (electricity from our Hydro is 13c/KWh).

I've seen conflicting studies as to whether its useful or not, and probably relies on a variety of factors. PV of course relies on it being sunny, but at least when its cloudy there is no energy waste, afaik
post #15 of 24
Quote:
Originally Posted by I am a Zither Zather Zuzz View Post

What do you mean by a few? As opposed to many?

From what I have heard, the payback needs decades, even with optimisic projections as to future electricity prices..

I'd love to see a reliable cite as to the payback period. Got one? Got many?

Mine will be a few. \
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post #16 of 24
Quote:
Originally Posted by Maury Markowitz View Post

I buy and install solar panels for a living. If you've ever read an article on the topic on the Wikipedia, I probably wrote it.

Sorry, but PV is *not* competitive. Right now it costs about 25 cents a kWh, which is almost certainly more than what you pay for retail electricity where you are, let alone on the wholesale side. Wind is generally quoted at 12 cents.

The difference, of course, is that PV continues to fall in price at a rate never before seen in the history of power. The introduction of advanced generators in the late 1800s is the closest one comes, as they improved the efficiency about 10 times over a period of 15 years. For comparison, the price of PV has fallen 70% in the last two years, which represents a much faster rate.

So then the question for everyone is whether or not this rate will continue. If it does, then PV will be about 15 cents in 2015/6, and 10 cents in 2020. Then it is indeed economical, practically anywhere. Time will tell.

Usually solar PV is quoted in $/kW rather than kWh as the output varies depending on the annual solar radiation. In Ontario, where I live we receive about 1200 hours of sunshine per year, so a 10 kW system produces about 12,000 kWh/year. Installed cost of approx. $6000 per kW or $60,000. Our provincial gov't provides what they call a feed-in-tariff and will pay 80 cents per kWh for 20 years. Ground mount systems pay less (70 cents per kWh) and systems larger than 10kW also pay less.

A tracking system adds about 20% more for single axis and dual axis about 30% more. If you drive through southwestern ontario you see lots of farms with huge solar trackers. These systems were installed for about $100,000 and pay the farmer about $13,000 - $15,000 per year. Not a bad investment. Most large systems 300,000 kW+ are ground mounted and do not track. For the most part it is cheaper to add more panels than to add a tracking system.

Another factor in the performance is the type of inverter used. This is how the electricity is converted from DC to AC power. Most large systems use a single large scale inverter, however smaller systems use micro-inverters where there is an inverter installed on every panel (or every 2) Most smaller systems use these as there are performance increases of about 10%. Also shading is a huge factor. Most panels have the cells wired in series (each cell is in series and each row is then wired in parallel) When one cell is shaded the whole row drops about 90%. Cheaper panels (made in china) are all in series. This does not make much difference on a solar farm, but makes a huge difference on a roof mounted system on a home. Especially where there is snow. This is where the benefit of micro inverters really is noticeable.

I've been involved in the solar industry for over 30 years (mostly solar thermal) and the past 2 years has seen unprecedented growth. What is falling in price is the actual solar panels as they are mass produced on a larger scale. The installation costs will probably not drop by much.

If you want to calculate the actual performance of a PV system go to the PVWatts calculator:

http://rredc.nrel.gov/solar/calculat...ATTS/version1/

This will provide the output based on actual climatic data for anywhere in the world.
post #17 of 24
Quote:
Originally Posted by Maury Markowitz View Post

I buy and install solar panels for a living. If you've ever read an article on the topic on the Wikipedia, I probably wrote it.

Sorry, but PV is *not* competitive. Right now it costs about 25 cents a kWh, which is almost certainly more than what you pay for retail electricity where you are, let alone on the wholesale side. Wind is generally quoted at 12 cents.

The difference, of course, is that PV continues to fall in price at a rate never before seen in the history of power. The introduction of advanced generators in the late 1800s is the closest one comes, as they improved the efficiency about 10 times over a period of 15 years. For comparison, the price of PV has fallen 70% in the last two years, which represents a much faster rate.

So then the question for everyone is whether or not this rate will continue. If it does, then PV will be about 15 cents in 2015/6, and 10 cents in 2020. Then it is indeed economical, practically anywhere. Time will tell.

For a guy who claims to know a lot, I think you are being a tad facile about the economics of this.

First, the cost of panels is only a portion of the total cost of this; installation costs (i.e., labor) is a significant chunk, and those costs are going nowhere. If anything, they will rise over time. That puts a floor on the price/kWh. It won't get to ¢15/kWh (let alone ¢10) for a very long time, if at all.

Second, whether or not this makes economic sense for Apple depends on what renewable mandates the local utility has, and as a result, what deals Apple has been able to strike with them. It is possible that Apple gets some sort of benefit as a "peak load alternative" (e.g. on hot NC spring/summer/fall days when there is massive demand for electricity and the regular grid can't handle it). Peak load prices can easily go as high as ¢25/kWh. If a substantial chunk of Apple's solar installation qualifies for that, it would be very economical for Apple to invest in this.
post #18 of 24
Wikipedia often doesn't tell the whole truth of the story, and in this case, neither or you, so I'm not surprised you've written entries.

PVs cost 25 per watt without any kind of subsidy, federal or state. Most forms of energy in use to today are subsidized, which makes them cheaper. Oil, gas, coal, etc. With subsidies, both federal and state, the cost of solar comes down dramatically and therefore makes it competitive right now. If subsidies for dirty forms of energy were removed and re-distributed to solar, wind and geothermal we'd have the clean energy future we want.. today.

Furthermore, everyone bitches about China, but they're the main force in driving down the cost of PVs worldwide and that's only the beginning.

I should mention I do live in California, where solar is subsidized and popping up all over the state, both domestically and via farm installations like the one being built in NC.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Maury Markowitz View Post

I buy and install solar panels for a living. If you've ever read an article on the topic on the Wikipedia, I probably wrote it.

Sorry, but PV is *not* competitive. Right now it costs about 25 cents a kWh, which is almost certainly more than what you pay for retail electricity where you are, let alone on the wholesale side. Wind is generally quoted at 12 cents.

The difference, of course, is that PV continues to fall in price at a rate never before seen in the history of power. The introduction of advanced generators in the late 1800s is the closest one comes, as they improved the efficiency about 10 times over a period of 15 years. For comparison, the price of PV has fallen 70% in the last two years, which represents a much faster rate.

So then the question for everyone is whether or not this rate will continue. If it does, then PV will be about 15 cents in 2015/6, and 10 cents in 2020. Then it is indeed economical, practically anywhere. Time will tell.
post #19 of 24
Quote:
Originally Posted by IQatEdo View Post

Mine will be a few. \

As others have pointed out, several factors have to be taken into consideration. When I said "in a few years", I was thinking a decade, which is what manufacturers for mobile equipment quote (www.sistech.com for example).

If solar power was, as Maury claims, such an unprofitable business for those who own the plants, there wouldn't be a worldwide boom and Maury would be out of business by now. Clearly, subsidies and premium prices for "green" power are a big factor in this, which Maury completely ignores in his linked calculation article. Thinking that Apple hasn't thought this through also from a financial point of view is probably rather naive.
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post #20 of 24
Quote:
Originally Posted by G-News View Post

As others have pointed out, several factors have to be taken into consideration. When I said "in a few years", I was thinking a decade, which is what manufacturers for mobile equipment quote (www.sistech.com for example).

If solar power was, as Maury claims, such an unprofitable business for those who own the plants, there wouldn't be a worldwide boom and Maury would be out of business by now. Clearly, subsidies and premium prices for "green" power are a big factor in this, which Maury completely ignores in his linked calculation article. Thinking that Apple hasn't thought this through also from a financial point of view is probably rather naive.

I'm talking perhaps 6 years for my system.
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post #21 of 24
.......
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post #22 of 24
Quote:
Originally Posted by G-News View Post

As others have pointed out, several factors have to be taken into consideration. When I said "in a few years", I was thinking a decade, which is what manufacturers for mobile equipment quote (www.sistech.com for example).

If solar power was, as Maury claims, such an unprofitable business for those who own the plants, there wouldn't be a worldwide boom and Maury would be out of business by now. Clearly, subsidies and premium prices for "green" power are a big factor in this, which Maury completely ignores in his linked calculation article. Thinking that Apple hasn't thought this through also from a financial point of view is probably rather naive.

I think there is a solar boom in progress. The problem is that many of these companies based in the us are fairly new companies and were not expecting the recent flood of cheap imports from China.
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post #23 of 24
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Originally Posted by Stourque View Post

Usually solar PV is quoted in $/kW rather than kWh as the output varies depending on the annual solar radiation.

You're confusing CAPEX and LCoE. The former is how much you pay for the system, the second is the effective cost of the power it produces. The relationship is straightforward, and you can find an article on it by googling "your own grid parity pv"
post #24 of 24
Quote:
Originally Posted by G-News View Post

If solar power was, as Maury claims, such an unprofitable business for those who own the plants, there wouldn't be a worldwide boom and Maury would be out of business by now. Clearly, subsidies and premium prices for "green" power are a big factor in this, which Maury completely ignores in his linked calculation article..

No it doesn't. It demonstrates that PV requires subsidies where power is cheap or you could build other systems (the example being nuclear). If those two don't hold, PV may be cheaper already. The article gives two examples of this.

In the vast majority of areas, however, PV is completely dependent on support. This represents the *vast* majority of PV installed every year. It's certainly the case here in Toronto, as well as every major FIT market like Germany, Spain and Italy. Surely you are aware of this.

There are other examples where the cost of power is simply not a factor. In the case of UPS demands, PV is cheaper than more batteries. This is clearly being put to good use by Apple.
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