Wake up daily to our latest coverage of business done better, directly in your inbox.


Get your weekly dose of analysis on rising corporate activism.

Select Newsletter

By signing up you agree to our privacy policy. You can opt out anytime.

Bill DiBenedetto headshot

Apple Invests $3 Billion in Solar Energy


Apple is going all-in on solar energy, to the tune of nearly $3 billion for solar facilities in California and Arizona.

First, the company this week said it will partner with First Solar on a 2,900-acre solar farm in Monterey County, California. Apple has committed $848 million for clean energy from the California Flats solar farm, First Solar said in a press release.

The company will receive electricity from 130 megawatts of the solar project under a 25-year power purchase agreement, which First Solar called "the largest agreement in the industry to provide clean energy to a commercial end user." Project construction will begin later this year, and completion is scheduled for the end of 2016.

Apple CEO Tim Cook said the First Solar project will produce enough power for the company's headquarters, all of its retail stores in California and many other facilities. “We know that climate change is real,” he said at the Goldman Sachs technology conference in San Francisco on Tuesday. “Our view is that the time for talk has passed, and the time for action is now. We’ve shown that with what we’ve done.” 

"Apple's commitment was instrumental in making this project possible and will significantly increase the supply of solar power in California," said Joe Kishkill, chief commercial officer for First Solar.

Apple is also making a big renewable energy splash involving its data centers, which use massive amounts of power. Earlier this month the company said a new data center in Arizona will be powered entirely by renewable energy, most of which will come from a new local solar farm. Apple said it will invest about $2 billion for the data center, which will produce 70 megawatts of clean energy, enough to power more than 14,500 Arizona homes.

The company will convert an existing manufacturing facility in Mesa into a “command center” for its global data center network. The Mesa site previously housed the failed Apple glass supplier GT Advanced Technologies (GTAT), which filed for bankruptcy in October. In a supplier agreement with Apple, GTAT was to supply "stab proof" sapphire glass for the iPhone 6, but when the facility failed to meet Apple's stringent quality standards, and efforts to renegotiate the agreement also failed, GTAT went under.

On the First Solar deal, Greenpeace senior IT sector analyst Gary Cook said: "It's one thing to talk about being 100 percent renewably powered, but it's quite another thing to make good on that commitment with the incredible speed and integrity that Apple has shown in the past two years. Apple still has work to do to reduce its environmental footprint, but other Fortune 500 CEOs would be well served to make a study of Tim Cook, whose actions show that he intends to take Apple full-speed ahead toward renewable energy with the urgency that our climate crisis demands."

Apple’s progress in meeting its commitment to 100 percent renewable energy helped the company earn positive scores in the most recent Greenpeace report analyzing major IT companies. Greenpeace said it will update its analysis of major internet companies’ use of renewable energy in April 2015.

Regarding the Arizona data center development, Greenpeace’s Cook said: "Arizona has some of the best solar potential in the world -- yet Arizona utilities and policymakers have been slow to tap the economic potential of solar, and some are still trying to slow the growth of solar."

Apple’s solar moves should serve as a template for other companies that want to use renewable energy, with the added plus of procuring and controlling energy on their own.

It’s a market-making transaction from a market leader.

Image: Apple logo by Paul Downey via Flickr

Bill DiBenedetto headshotBill DiBenedetto

Writer, editor, reader and generally good (okay mostly good, well sometimes good) guy trying to get by.

Read more stories by Bill DiBenedetto

More stories from Energy & Environment