Google Disputes The Times Online UK’s Claim About Environmental Impacts On Search Queries

Posted Jan 12, 2009

It sounds like Alex Wissner-Gross, Jonathan Leake, and Richard Woods of the Times Online U.K. should have done more research when writing a paper about the energy that Google consumes.  Leake and Woods are writers for The Times Online U.K. and Wissner-Gross is a physicist that gave predictions about the energy consumption.

Leake and Woods started their article by stating “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.”  That’s a pretty bold statement to make about a search engine company. Below is an additional excerpt from The Times Online article:

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. ?Google operates huge data centres around the world that consume a great deal of power,? said Alex Wissner-Gross, a Harvard University physicist whose research on the environmental impact of computing is due out soon. ?A Google search has a definite environmental impact.?

Wissner-Gross submitted his paper for publication to the U.S. Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers and created a website regarding his research called  Since Google is making a tremendous effort towards becoming a greener company and built their whole company based on a “Don’t be evil” philosophy, they simply can’t take the bad reputation.  Especially if they believe the facts are wrong.  Urs Hölzle, SVP of Google Operations responded to the accusations on the Google Blog.

Hölzle’s started by emphasizing that Google has built some of the most energy efficient data centers in the world.  Below are some of the stats that Hölzle brokedown in the article response:

– The Times wrote that a typical Google search uses “half the energy as boiling a kettle of water” or 7 grams of CO2
– Google returns each search within 0.2 seconds which amounts to 0.0003 kWh of energy per search or 1 kJ.  The average human needs 8000 kJ of energy per day from food.  One Google search uses about the same amount of energy that the human body uses in 10 seconds.
– One Google search amounts to 0.2 grams of CO2, not the 7 grams that the Times mentioned.
– The EU standard for tailpipe emissions is 140 grams of CO2 per km driven.  For every 0.6 miles that a car drives, it produces the same amount of CO2 as one thousand Google searches.

Between the two articles, I’d believe Google as being the most accurate.  There is only so much information about the company that the Harvard physicist had, but good try though.

[Reference: Times Online UK]