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Apple hits 75 percent renewable energy across the board

The tech giant says three-quarters of its energy needs are now renewable, with some facilities now at 100 percent.

Apple's data center in Maiden, North Carolina.
Apple's data center in Maiden, N.C.

Apple is a lot greener than it used to be, the company said today.

The iPhone and Mac maker published a new annual environmental report this morning that tracks some of the improvements it has made. The key takeaway: 75 percent of the energy it needs at its corporate facilities is renewable, and the number is even higher at some of its data centers and its headquarters.

"We're committed to greening the grid wherever we have our facilities," Scott Brodrick of Apple's product marketing, told CNET.

The company currently has data centers in Maiden, N.C., and Newark, Calif., and is constructing an additional center in Prineville, Ore., that will run off a mix of energy sources. Apple is also working on a facility in Reno, Nev., though Brodrick would not say when that would be up and running.

These facilities are part of Apple's growing cloud services effort. These data centers have long served up digital content like music, movies, and apps. In 2011, the company added to that load with iCloud, its storage and sync service, which relies on the data centers to store user data and information. The data centers also play a role in powering Siri, the voice-assistant feature found on iPhones, iPods, and iPads.

The Maiden location in particular has quickly become the crown jewel of Apple's data center operations, and has been running on entirely renewable energy sources since last December, Brodrick said. Part of the reason for that is its solar array, which the company touts as the largest of its kind in the U.S. and is promoting in a video:

Among some of the other progress it made last year, Apple says it's now using bio-gas fuel cells along with solar photovoltaic technology at its headquarters. It's also greened some of its products including the newest iMac, which uses 68 percent less material than the previous model. There's also the AirPort Express wireless router, which Apple says uses bio-based polymers.

Even with Apple's progress, the company has not been without its critics. Greenpeace in particular went after Apple hard last year as part of its campaign to bring awareness to the greenness of data centers. It also knocked Applefor transparency on its progress as part of its 18th annual "Guide to Greener Electronics" which was published last November.

"Apple's announcement shows that it has made real progress in its commitment to lead the way to a clean energy future," the group said in a statement today. "Apple's increased level of disclosure about its energy sources helps customers know that their iCloud will be powered by clean energy sources, not coal."

Nonetheless, Greenpeace urged for more disclosure from Apple in any dealings with local utilities and state governments.

"Over the past four years we've reported more comprehensively than any company in our industry, and we've done this by focusing not only on our facilities, which is what many other companies do, but also on our products," Brodrick offered.

Update, 11:30 a.m. PT: Adds statement from Greenpeace.

Some shots of the solar array at the Maiden facility:

Apple's solar array at its data center in Maiden, North Carolina.
Apple's solar array at its data center in Maiden, North Carolina. Apple