EJM Designs Limited Blog

Monday, January 12, 2009

Alarmism Over Google Search Tech - And a Snap Back

Yesterday saw the release by the Times Online that Google Searches are bad for the environment.

BS Alarm #1: The premise seems a bit absurd.
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.”

BS Alarm #2: Does this guy have an innate understanding of how the internet works? Where is he getting his source data?

Truth is, there is no source data. The very next paragraph discusses how secretive Google is in its power consumption and server count and even locations of server banks. So what does this amount to? BS Alarmism over nothing, another attempt by someone to say "If X company says they care about the environment and they plug in a toaster then they hate the environment" and generally added as subtext: "so why should I care?"

Google was quick to respond to the foolishness:
In fact, in the time it takes to do a Google search, your own personal computer will use more energy than Google uses to answer your query.

Recently, though, others have used much higher estimates, claiming that a typical search uses "half the energy as boiling a kettle of water" and produces 7 grams of CO2. We thought it would be helpful to explain why this number is *many* times too high. Google is fast — a typical search returns results in less than 0.2 seconds. Queries vary in degree of difficulty, but for the average query, the servers it touches each work on it for just a few thousandths of a second. Together with other work performed before your search even starts (such as building the search index) this amounts to 0.0003 kWh of energy per search, or 1 kJ. For comparison, the average adult needs about 8000 kJ a day of energy from food, so a Google search uses just about the same amount of energy that your body burns in ten seconds.

In terms of greenhouse gases, one Google search is equivalent to about 0.2 grams of CO2. The current EU standard for tailpipe emissions calls for 140 grams of CO2 per kilometer driven, but most cars don't reach that level yet. Thus, the average car driven for one kilometer (0.6 miles for those in the U.S.) produces as many greenhouse gases as a thousand Google searches.

So there you go. Stop it already. When it comes to environmental impact, there are very few of us - individuals or companies - who are not living in glass houses.

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