Microsoft Buys into Sun

Just in time for Earth Day, April 22, the world’s biggest software company is laying claim to running the largest solar electric system in Silicon Valley.

The location is in Mountain View, Calif., where Microsoft maintains a key research facility. The Silicon Valley campus (SVC) will now be better able to guard against rolling blackouts that have bedeviled the region in recent years during summer months.

The solar electric system from PowerLight of Berkeley, Calif., consists of high-efficiency solar modules that convert sunlight directly into electricity. Generating 480kW at peak capacity, this system is composed of
2,288 tiles that can supply enough energy to power nearly 500 homes, according to Microsoft.

The solar panels come from Silicon Valley neighbor SunPower based in Sunnyvale, Calif. SunPower, a subsidiary of Cypress Semiconductor , claims its solar panels offer up to 50 percent more power per square foot than conventional solar technology.

“We’re pleased to have the largest solar system in Silicon Valley using Silicon Valley’s own high-tech, high-efficiency SunPower solar panels,” Tom Werner, CEO of SunPower, said in a statement.

Microsoft said it looked for ways to make its SVC environmentally friendly prior to its opening in 1999. Design features include the use of recycled materials in building finishes, drought-tolerant landscaping, and building management systems to proactively monitor and control energy use.

Since then Microsoft said it went further with its “green” initiative by reducing the hours of operation for heating, ventilation, air conditioning (HVAC) and full lighting, and monitoring heating and cooling systems for maximum efficiency.

The move to solar is consistent with the latest environmental initiatives at Microsoft which last year moved to eliminate Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) from all its packaging. In an earlier statement Microsoft called PVC “a combination of plastic and chlorine that we call the poisonous plastic – is the worst plastic from an environmental health perspective.”

Microsoft replaced PVC with a plastic material called PET which doesn’t have the chlorine and is used in recyclable milk cartons. Microsoft plans to test biodegradable PET alternatives, such as packaging made of cornstarch, sugar and vegetable oils.

Overall, Microsoft says it recycles a daily average of 24 tons of material at all its facilities.

Mountain View mayor Nick Galiotto commended Microsoft for “reducing its environmental footprint while helping with our critical energy needs during the summer months.”

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