Sunday, January 11, 2009

Search Google, Pollute the Earth.

When many people think of pollution they think of things like cars, airplanes and factories. However, it may be that one of the biggest contributors to pollution are the massive datacenters consuming lots of energy. How much energy do these datacenters use? Here is a guess from the Times Online:

Performing two Google searches from a desktop computer can generate about the same amount of carbon dioxide as boiling a kettle for a cup of tea, according to new research.

While millions of people tap into Google without considering the environment, a typical search generates about 7g of CO2 Boiling a kettle generates about 15g... “A Google search has a definite environmental impact.”...

“Data centres are among the most energy-intensive facilities imaginable,” said Evan Mills, a scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California. Banks of servers storing billions of web pages require power.

Though Google says it is in the forefront of green computing, its search engine generates high levels of CO2 because of the way it operates. When you type in a Google search for, say, “energy saving tips”, your request doesn’t go to just one server. It goes to several competing against each other.

It may even be sent to servers thousands of miles apart. Google’s infrastructure sends you data from whichever produces the answer fastest. The system minimises delays but raises energy consumption. Google has servers in the US, Europe, Japan and China...

Google said: “We are among the most efficient of all internet search providers.”

So by good logic: when you use Google, you show how much you hate Al Gore. (If you like Al Gore, buy a Mac, he is on their Board of Trustees).


  1. First problem: how do they determine that one google search produces 7g of CO2 (I can think of ways that they did that, but still, it's a stretch). The one thing that I always remember is once I heard a reporter asking some pretty probing questions into how they calculate CO2 production and in the end the scientist said, "It's all rather fuzzy and very hard to estimate and it really isn't a science." (not a direct quote) So even if they come up with a good way of measuring CO2 output I have been around experiments long enough to think of a few ways to shoot all kinds of holes in their theory.

    Anyway, after that rant...I was amused by their description of google's method of conducting a search on their servers. They make it sound like a novel idea that no one has ever tried before. In actuality it sounds like how the internet works. Sounds like a good idea.

  2. It should also be pointed out that where Google's data centers are located influences this calculation greatly. For example, if they were all in France, the CO2 output would go way down since France uses a nuclear reactors to generate a high percentage of their electricity.

    In the end, the problem isn't the search, it's the way we generate electricity.


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