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Apple to double size of fuel cell plant at NC data center

Aerial view of supposed Bloom Energy server farm. | Source: Wired

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A new filing with the North Carlina Utilities Commission reveals that Apple plans to double the number of fuel cells deployed at its Maiden data center, with a total energy output able to power about 6,250 homes.

Apple's existing array of 24 hydrogen-based "Energy Servers" outputs 4.8 megawatts of power and is the largest private installation of its kind, however the company plans to add another 26 fuel cells to the project, upping its power yield to 10 megawatts by January, reports the Charlotte Observer. To put that number into perspective, the 10-megawatt plant has the ability to power 6,250 average households when running at full capacity.

The fuel cells, built by California company Bloom Energy, convert clean methane from a nearby landfill to usable electricity which feeds Apple's massive $1 billion Maiden, N.C. data center. Among other online assets, the facility is home to iCloud and the brains of Apple's Siri virtual assistant.

The source of the methane remains unannounced, but the Observer noted that a contract for the fuel was signed with Houston-based Element Markets Renewable Energy, LLC. It has been rumored that local firm Piedmont Natural Gas is a prime contender.

To be considered a renewable facility, Apple will have to produce or purchase biogas of its own to offset the methane being piped into the fuel cells and the new filing states that excess electricity will be sold to Duke Energy.

In addition to the fuel cell farm, Apple has also built the country's largest solar array to help power its data center. The 100-acre, 20-megawatt installation provides 42 million kilowatt hours of clean energy per year.