Apple Planning Largest Fuel Cell Installation in the U.S.

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Apple is preparing to be the proud owner of the largest fuel cell project in the country, according to the Greensboro News & Record. The company recently filed plans with the North Carolina Utilities Commission to build a 4.8-megawatt installation at their data center in Maiden, just northwest of Charlotte. It is believed that this data center supports Apple’s iCloud and Siri services.

Apple's North Carolina Data Center

Apple’s North Carolina Data Center

The North Carolina center is LEED certified and already is home to the largest end-user owned solar array. Apple touted that along with the fuel cell project in their environmental report earlier this year. The filing with the Utilities Commission provided additional details on the fuel cell project.

Fuel cells are a non-polluting, silent source of electricity created from an electro-chemical process that uses only hydrogen and discharges mostly heat and water. Such power centers receive a 30% tax credit from the federal government, and the state of California offers incentives for fuel cells that cover around half the cost of installation.

According to The News-Record, North Carolina offers no such incentive. Fuel cells are considered to be an expensive form of electricity, “costing $6.7 million per megawatt, which would put Apple’s project in the $30 million range.”

In the past, such power generators have been used for experimental purposes, such as NASA missions, but prices have been dropping in recent years. We should also note that Apple has filed for at least one patent on fuel cell-related battery technology for its devices.

Bloom Energy of Sunnyvale, California will build the project which is expected to be completed by the end of the year. The plans submitted are for a 24-module installation with natural gas, from which the hydrogen will be extracted, supplied by Piedmont Natural Gas. There was no indication how much natural gas would be required.

Apple could also receive payments from Duke Energy if it sells back energy to the grid. The value would be privately negotiated, but Duke is required to buy such green energy to help it meet green energy targets set by North Carolina law in 2007.

Other companies also use some level fuel cell installations, according to Bloom Energy’s website, including Walmart, Staples, Coca-Cola, Adobe, eBay, Google, and Bank of America among others.

Below is a letter on the state of North Carolina’s website relating to the fuel cell project.

North Carolina Apple Correspondence

For bonus fun, think about the fact that this email was printed out and then scanned for online storage…

Comments

Fastflyer

Wish I had a module in my backyard.

geoduck

Wish I had a module in my backyard.

I’d like to think that if there were enough big installations the price per module would come down. Then we could look at getting them at home.

Lee Dronick

I?d like to think that if there were enough big installations the price per module would come down. Then we could look at getting them at home.

Hydrogen fuel cells were first built in the early 19th century, but were not cost effective, coal energy was cheaper though certainly not cleaner. The price will come down, but it might not be in my time.

As to backyard energy, I live in a sunny clime and could install solar panels. Of course that may not but be viable in other climates, but I understand that Germany is producing 30% of their energy from solar.

geoduck

I live in a sunny clime and could install solar panels. Of course that may not but be viable in other climates,

Even here in (rainy, dreary, cold, damp foggy, cloudy, misty, drippy, moss-covered) Vancouver Island I see a fair number of houses with solar collectors on the roof.

Lee Dronick

Even here in (rainy, dreary, cold, damp foggy, cloudy, misty, drippy, moss-covered) Vancouver Island I see a fair number of houses with solar collectors on the roof.[/quote}

And Buchart Gardens seems to have blossoms even in winter. smile

I guess that it is the amount of UV light that reaches the solar panels that matters when it comes to making the electricity.

iJack

Lee ? Is that right?  It’s only UV light that drives the cells?  I knew that the thin-film cells degrade from the UV component in sunlight, which would be a total irony if they only work on UV wavelengths. 

I’m pretty sure I’ve seen demonstration cells working under artificial light.

Lee Dronick

Jack I suppose that there are several types of solar panels. It is just that I remember seeing a news segment about solar panels under cloudy conditions and they mentioned the UV light. Is there an engineer that can comment?

Mick Rose

Not an engineer but the Australians are working in both these areas as well.  Early days yet with these technologies but you might like to have a look at Ceramic Fuel Cells http://www.cfcl.com.au/ who manufacture products for the domestic market and Dyesol http://www.dyesol.com/ who are working on PV systems that will operate even in low light conditions.

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