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Data Revealed: Google Uses More Power than Salt Lake City

Google has broken its silence on energy consumption, announcing that it consumed 2,259,998 MWh in 2010.

In a new section on the Google Green site, called “The Big Picture,” Google also said that it generated 1.46 million metric tons of carbon dioxide last year. Average annual carbon footprint per user was about 1.46 kg CO2 before offsets, and 0 kg afterwards, Google said.

The company said that by purchasing and generating renewable energy, as well as buying high-quality carbon offsets, it has brought its carbon output to zero. “We’re very picky because we want to make sure that our investment has a positive impact that wouldn’t have happened without us. For example, we pay for reductions in emissions from a landfill near our data center,” Google said.

Google’s data centers draw almost 260 MW of power, the New York Times reported. This is more power than Salt Lake City uses, Gizmodo said.

Scope 1 emissions, including Google Street View cars, the company’s employee shuttle program, company vehicles and on-site fuel at owned offices, were 11,126 metric tons of CO2e. Scope 2, made up of purchased electricity for offices and data centers, was 1,226,350 metric tons.

Other indirect emissions, categorized as scope 3, including business travel, employee commuting, server manufacturing, data center construction and on-site fuel at leased offices, totalled 207,065 metric tons. The company also reported biogenic emissions from landfill gas combustion as 13,441 metric tons.

The announcement represents a break with Google’s secretive past. “For years, Google maintained a wall of silence worthy of a government security agency on how much electricity the company used — a silence that experts speculated was used to cloak how quickly it was outstripping the competition in the scale and efficiency of its data centers,” the New York Times said.

But Google’s competitors no longer see electricity figures as a key to decoding the company’s operations, senior vice president of technical infrastructure Urs Hoelzle said, according to the Times.

The company received an F for transparency, along with Twitter and Amazon, in Greenpeace rankings on cloud computing companies. “Google only publicly acknowledges the existence of seven data centres globally, though informed estimates place Google’s fleet in the range of 20 to 30 data centres,” Greenpeace said.

“Google fails to disclose information on its energy use or GHG emissions, though it claims to be carbon neutral through the purchasing of carbon offsets and renewable energy… Google does participate in the Carbon Disclosure Project voluntary reporting programme, but provides very little actual data on its operational footprint or energy use,” the report added.

In that report, Greenpeace did say that Google is taking positive steps to improve the impact of its energy supply, by making direct investments in and signing power purchase agreements with renewable power projects including wind and solar.

The company’s renewable power investments include $168 million in equity in the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System, a gargantuan 370 MW project being planned for southeast California, and a 42 percent stake in the $5 billion Atlantic Wind Connection, a planned undersea power line to enable 6,000 MW of wind development from New York to Virginia.

The company’s Mountain View, Calif., headquarters have 1.6 MW of solar panels that produce 3 million kWh a year, the company said. Google says it has taken 2,000 cars off the road, equivalent to 14 million vehicle miles per year, through its shuttle program and electric vehicle charging stations.

And it also says it has 4.5 million sq. ft. of building space set to achieve LEED status.

Google says that without efficiency measures at its data centers, its footprint would have been about twice as big. It said that the energy consumption of 100 searches is 0.03 kWh, equivalent to 28 minutes using a 60-watt light bulb, translating to 20 grams of carbon dioxide.

Meanwhile, streaming 1 minute of YouTube requires 0.0002 kWh, and generates approximately 0.1 g carbon dioxide, the company said. Google uses 2.2 kWh and generates 1.2 kg of CO2 per Gmail user every year, the company said.

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2 thoughts on “Data Revealed: Google Uses More Power than Salt Lake City

  1. While this headline is certainly eye-grabbing, we need to keep in mind what an economic engine Google has become. If we look at per capita GHG emissions per dollar of revenue (for ALL of the businesses using their services for marketing, leads generation, backoffice infrastructure and support, my strong feeling is that the shared footprint – my firm included – is quite small compared to the other firms in the Global 500. If we also add to this the intangible values that Google’s outspoken role as a ‘striver’ for sustainable business practices, a major force in adoption and promotion of alternative energy use and research, and (let’s not forget) provide free tools such as Google Maps which enables millions to find the most efficient routes for vehicle, bike and pedestrian traffic, the story is even better.

    I am far from a blue chip apologist, but the sustainability community will only be seen as credible if we balance aspirational goals with real-world economic and social capital contributions of our largest companies.

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