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Apple's Arizona sapphire plant spurs construction of new renewable energy projects

post #1 of 17
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Apple's desire to have its Arizona sapphire plant run entirely on renewable energy from day one has spurred the construction of new solar and geothermal power projects in the region, a new report says.

Hudson Ranch
The Hudson Ranch geothermal plant | Source: EnergySource


Cupertino, Calif.-based Apple is said to have negotiated directly with Arizona utility SRP to ensure the new facility could be operated without the use of fossil fuel-burning power plants, according to Bloomberg. The additional green energy capacity was one of several concessions -- alongside new on-site power infrastructure, expedited permit processing, and financial incentives -- made by commercial and governmental entities in the state in order to land Apple's business.

"It's not like getting an extension cord and plugging it in," Mesa, Ariz. mayor Scott Smith told the publication. "These deals live and die many times before they come together."

SRP has signed several new agreements to purchase as much as 75 megawatts of energy from renewable sources in recent months, though it is unclear how much of that is related to the Apple deal. The utility has added power from a 25-megawatt geothermal facility in Beaver County, Utah as well as a 50-megawatt geothermal plant in the Imperial Valley of southern California.
Before its unveiling, the Arizona plant was codenamed Project Cascade
Those agreements are in addition to the more than 700 megawatts of green power SRP already purchases. SRP has not said exactly how much it expects the Apple facility to draw, only that it believes the factory will "add significant electrical load."

The Arizona plant will not be the first Apple facility to depend entirely on renewable energy, as the company moves toward dropping power from fossil fuels entirely.

Apple's Maiden, NC datacenter is powered by two Apple-owned 20-megawatt solar power arrays located adjacent to the datacenter as well as a 10-megawatt fuel cell installation that the company says is the largest non-utility fuel cell installation anywhere in the world. Apple's existing datacenter in Newark, Calif. is served primarily by wind power, while new sites in Reno, Nev. and Prineville, Ore. will take advantage of existing locally-sourced renewable energy.

All together, Apple says that more than 75 percent of power in use at corporate facilities around the world is from renewable sources.
post #2 of 17
I thought Apple just had a partnership with some firm to manufacture these sapphire crystal whatever-they-are. This article implies that it will be an Apple owned and operated facility. Is that the case?
post #3 of 17
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Originally Posted by AppleInsider View Post

 as well as a 50-watt geothermal plant in the Imperial Valley of southern California.

Every little bit helps 

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post #4 of 17

7.5 percent of my home heating comes from a renewable energy source: wood.

post #5 of 17

Apple has paid for the facility and the equipment, but another company is running the tech.

post #6 of 17

I guess the Gorilla (Glass) marketing team won't be able to use the "but it uses more energy to produce than glass so more pollution" argument that I've seen a couple of people use.

post #7 of 17
How close is Apple to being the largest user of solar panels for a non-energy company?

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post #8 of 17
I'd like to know how the plant is storing the energy generated by their solar array and are the fuel cells mentioned "Bloom Boxes" from Bloom Energy?

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post #9 of 17
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Originally Posted by SpamSandwich View Post

I'd like to know how the plant is storing the energy generated by their solar array and are the fuel cells mentioned "Bloom Boxes" from Bloom Energy?

 

Bloom fuel cells powered by biogas according to here:

http://gigaom.com/2013/11/18/apple-solar-farm-fuel-cell-farms-exclusive-photos-investigative-report/

post #10 of 17
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Originally Posted by SpamSandwich View Post

I'd like to know how the plant is storing the energy generated by their solar array and are the fuel cells mentioned "Bloom Boxes" from Bloom Energy?

 

Apple's NC datacenter uses Bloom Boxes, but they are a secondary, and independent energy source from solar.

 

For solar, I bet it's similar to home solar. Their solar farm feeds electricity back into the grid. Apple and the local energy company then horse trades. So, there is no energy storage. If Apple's solar energy is a lot, the local energy company can reduce the power on their power plant.

 

For energy storage at such scale, I'm sure you'd be hearing some about it as it is sure to be exotic, like gigantic flywheels, water pumps + lakes, or molten salt.

post #11 of 17
Quote:
Originally Posted by malax View Post

I thought Apple just had a partnership with some firm to manufacture these sapphire crystal whatever-they-are. This article implies that it will be an Apple owned and operated facility. Is that the case?

The facility is being build by Apple, is owned by Apple, and will be run by Apple.

The agreement with GT, the company that actually produces the sapphire, is that Apple purchased the ovens. But, as production commences, after some time, GT will begin to buy those ovens from Apple. GT is running the technical processes that produce, and manufacture, the products from sapphire, while Apple runs the facilities.
post #12 of 17
Quote:
Originally Posted by melgross View Post


The facility is being build by Apple, is owned by Apple, and will be run by Apple.

The agreement with GT, the company that actually produces the sapphire, is that Apple purchased the ovens. But, as production commences, after some time, GT will begin to buy those ovens from Apple. GT is running the technical processes that produce, and manufacture, the products from sapphire, while Apple runs the facilities.

 

Thanks for that summary.  I hadn't understood it that way.  This whole sapphire thing is very intriguing.  Of all the components that Apple doesn't make, I wonder why this made the cut.  It's especially interesting given Apple's history with Corning.

post #13 of 17
Quote:
Originally Posted by malax View Post
 

 

Thanks for that summary.  I hadn't understood it that way.  This whole sapphire thing is very intriguing.  Of all the components that Apple doesn't make, I wonder why this made the cut.  It's especially interesting given Apple's history with Corning.

It made the cut because it is a discriminator.  Other companies will have a hard time duplicating this level of sapphire production without using GT's capabilities, and Apple has an exclusive on that as part of the deal.  If Apple's use of sapphire results in clear advantages vs competing handsets, then their domination of the high end strengthens, and their allure increases to those who otherwise might go for mid-tier. 

 

Thompson

post #14 of 17
Originally Posted by AppleInsider View Post
it believes the factory will "add significant electrical load."

 

Yup.  500+ furnaces all melting aluminum oxide powder at 3,762 °F to produce huge rods of synthetic sapphire.

That will require a massive amount of electricity.

 

By the way, the world's synthetic sapphire production, way back in 2003, was 250 tons.

I wonder how much the Arizona factory will increase that figure.

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post #15 of 17
Quote:
Originally Posted by thompr View Post
 

It made the cut because it is a discriminator.  Other companies will have a hard time duplicating this level of sapphire production without using GT's capabilities, and Apple has an exclusive on that as part of the deal.  If Apple's use of sapphire results in clear advantages vs competing handsets, then their domination of the high end strengthens, and their allure increases to those who otherwise might go for mid-tier. 

 

Thompson

 

The clear advantage would be eliminating the need for most scratch- and drop-resistant cases.

Jony Ive sweats the details in every iPhone design, and seeing it covered up must be depressing for him.

The alternative being, of course, not using a case and eroding your iPhone's anodized finish (and scratching the glass.)

The aluminum scratching / denting issue could be solved by switching back to stainless steel and laminating

sapphire to not only the touchscreen but the metal back as well.   (But stainless steel is heavier than

similarly-sized aluminum, so that might not be acceptable.  Who knows?)

 

Apple 'Sapphire Laminates’ patent:

http://appleinsider.com/articles/13/09/12/apple-patent-filing-suggests-sapphire-in-future-ios-devices

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post #16 of 17
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Originally Posted by SockRolid View Post
 

 

The clear advantage would be eliminating the need for most scratch- and drop-resistant cases...

 

Yes, that would be the clear and obvious advantage, but there is significant debate out there with regard to how "shatterproof" sapphire would be.  Many suggest that it would be more prone to shattering than the Gorilla Glass of today, even if it is much harder to scratch.  Apple may have figured that one out, and that is the reason that I left it as an "if".

 

Thompson

post #17 of 17
Quote:
Originally Posted by thompr View Post

Yes, that would be the clear and obvious advantage, but there is significant debate out there with regard to how "shatterproof" sapphire would be.  Many suggest that it would be more prone to shattering than the Gorilla Glass of today, even if it is much harder to scratch.  Apple may have figured that one out, and that is the reason that I left it as an "if" Thompson

The sapphire will be used in conjunction with Liquid metal, so, when dropped, the iPhone will bounce into tomorrow and require a catcher's mitt to to accomplish an iRecovery.

I find it interesting that what the US Air Force called Swamp Gas in the 1950s to discredit reports of UFOs is what we now call Bio-gas and is used today by beer drinkers to drive the family dog out of the bedroom as well as power server farms.
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