SunPower scores deal for Apple’s huge solar farm

Apple plans to buy solar panels from SunPower(s SPWRA) for the huge solar farm that it’s planning to build at its data center in Maiden, North Carolina, according to San Jose Mercury News reporter Dana Hull, who cites a regulatory filing with North Carolina’s utility commission. Last month Apple revealed that it plans to construct a 20 MW solar farm, and a 5 MW fuel-cell farm, at its data center, which would be some of the largest company-owned solar and fuel cell installations in the country when built.
While the filing doesn’t have all that much detail, Hull notes that it says Apple’s solar farm could start delivering solar power starting in October and will use SunPower’s E20 435-watt ground-mounted photovoltaic panels, with single-axis tracking systems. Both Apple and SunPower aren’t commenting on the deal. I speculated last month that Apple’s solar deal could go to SunPower (or First Solar).
Last week I reported that it looks like fuel-cell maker Bloom Energy is the supplier behind Apple’s 5 MW fuel-cell farm. I heard that from a couple of sources, and it also makes sense in terms of the size of the deal, and the fact that Apple’s fuel cells will be run on biogas, which Bloom has a long history of supplying. Neither Apple nor Bloom Energy would comment on any deal.
If both Bloom Energy and SunPower are the vendors behind Apple’s clean power push at its data center, then two Bay Area companies will be leading the high profile and pioneering plan. Both Bloom Energy and SunPower are venture-backed Valley startups, though SunPower is now a public company and was bought by oil giant Total. Perhaps this is proof that greentech innovation is alive and well in the Valley, though it takes more than a decade to make a dent in the energy market.
Apple, and other Internet companies like Google(s GOOG) and Facebook, have chosen to build large data centers in North Carolina to power their always-on services, and Apple will partly run its iCloud service from the North Carolina data center. Part of the reason why North Carolina is turning into a hub for data centers is that power is cheap there, and pretty dirty, because most of it comes from coal. To help with that PR and environmental problem, Apple is looking to source a portion of its power from its own distributed renewable energy.
Greenpeace says that Apple’s North Carolina data center could consume 100 MW, and Apple’s clean-power plan is for 25 MW (or 25 percent). But because the sun doesn’t shine 24/7, Greenpeace notes that the real capacity of the clean power could be 10 percent.