Cleantech
Apple Announces Chinese Solar Project and US Forest Conservation Effort

Apple has announced plans to invest in a new Chinese solar power project and help preserve some 36,000 acres of forests in the eastern United States.

The tech giant is partnering with solar company SunPower to build two solar power projects totaling 40 megawatts (MW) in China — more than the amount of energy consumed by Apple’s 19 corporate offices and 21 retail stores in China and Hong Kong.

The projects are expected to provide up to 80 million kilowatt-hours per year while also protecting the ecosystem. They will feature SunPower's "light-on-land" approach to solar photovoltaic power plant design and construction, which allows pasture farming to continue while power is generated.

However, this doesn’t include the significant power consumed by Apple's contract manufacturers.

“The next step for Apple should be to work with its suppliers to power its manufacturing operations in China with 100 percent renewable energy,” Greenpeace's East Asia Senior Renewable Campaigner, Yuan Ying, said in a statement. “Chinese policies to reduce coal consumption and boost renewable energy are working, but we need more rapid progress to clean up air pollution choking major Chinese cities and achieve a peak and then reduction in Chinese carbon pollution as quickly as possible. Companies with manufacturing operations and large energy consumption in China have a responsibility to help accelerate the shift to renewable energy.”

Regardless, Greenpeace praised Apple’s announcement as a “significant first step” toward addressing its energy footprint in China, and said it sets an important precedent for other companies that have operations in China. Apple’s aggressive action to meet its commitment to 100 percent renewable energy for its US data centers helped the company earn positive scores in the most recent Greenpeace report analyzing major internet companies.

Corporate demand for renewable energy is growing quickly in China, according to a new report by The Climate Group. The country is already the largest investor in the renewable energy market, with an increased investment of $89.5 billion in 2014. RE100, a global initiative aimed at recruiting and encouraging major companies to use 100 percent renewable power across their operations, recently announced a partnership with the China Renewable Energy Industries Association (CREIA) as part of a major new drive to help companies in China adopt renewable energy.

Apple also announced it would buy two large tracts of timberland in Maine and North Carolina from Virginia-based nonprofit, the Conservation Fund. The Fund will then resell the land to commercial interests under legally binding terms that require future owners to preserve the forest and follow responsible principles for cutting and replanting trees.

Although Apple may not purchase paper made from trees on that land, it says the investment will increase the supply of sustainable wood fiber. The two tracts would produce about half the non-recycled wood fiber used in Apple’s product packaging last year — putting the company halfway toward its goal of obtaining all its non-recycled paper products from sustainable timber.

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