Google’s concern with carbon emissions

Google.com is a website that many people have set to their homepage, and has become the standard in internet search engines for quite some time now. The corporation has expanded to providing maps, email, and shopping tools online. Interestingly, they have put research efforts toward futuristic glasses, cars that drive themselves, and (less known) renewable energy. In this blog I comment (without trying to plug the company) on how Google is being responsible with their energy requirements and why I think they are serving as a model for companies in the future.

Few people think about the energy intensity of a Google search. For me, it’s tempting to lazily have Google give me the conversion from inches to millimeters when working on an engineering homework problem. This one search requires 0.0003 kWh of electricity, resulting in roughly 0.2g of CO2 [1]. Although this doesn’t seem like a lot, using Google has become second nature to a large portion of the population, to the point where their 2010 emissions consisted of 1,449,825 tonnes of CO2e. For scale, this is close to the emissions of Laos or the island of Fiji during the same year [2].

So Google has emissions comparable to a small country, what are they doing about it? Well, it’s clear that the company cares about their environmental impact as they provide detailed information on their measures to increase efficiency in their data centers, down to how they selected the color of the LED lights on their servers [3]. Google also seems to be one of the hubs for data generation as they provide tools like Google trends, showing the amount of internet popularity of a given topic [4]. They are also concerned with generating their own data, especially in how much energy they consume. Figure 1 shows an example of this data, displaying their Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE) the last 5 years.

Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE) average for all large-scale Google data centers [3].

Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE) average for all large-scale Google data centers (a PUE of 1 means all energy consumed goes toward computing, and isn’t wasted on heating or cooling) [3].

Google is doing more than plotting their energy usage, though. To date, the company has invested over a billion dollars toward wind and solar energy projects, such as the Spinning Spur Wind Farm in West Texas and large scale photovoltaic plants in California [5]. The intention of these projects is somewhat mind blowing – they are not only doing this to provide power to their data centers, they are doing it purely to promote the expansion of renewable energy. This intention is clear with the $75 million investment to create a Clean Power Finance fund that helps homeowners install PV panels and the $280 million to support financing for residential solar projects through a SolarCity fund [5].

Google's large scale photovoltaic project near Sacramento, California [5].

Google’s large scale photovoltaic project near Sacramento, California [5].

Now, Google is pressuring others to help out their crusade to a cleaner future as they have sent a formal request to utilities asking to make renewable energy options available to them and other energy consumers the utility provides for [6]. As I am writing this, it’s hard to n ot feel like I’m plugging Google’s name. However, Google has clearly given conscious thought to their environmental impact and I guess I can only say good things about a company whose slogan is “Don’t Be Evil” [7]. It goes without saying that we can only hope other companies will follow in Google’s footsteps toward providing services in a clean, efficient manner.

[1] https://www.google.com/green/bigpicture/references.html#investments

[2] http://www.eia.gov/cfapps/ipdbproject/iedindex3.cfm?tid=90&pid=44&aid=8

[3] https://www.google.com/about/datacenters/efficiency/internal/index.html#servers

[4] https://www.google.com/trends/

[5] https://www.google.com/green/energy/investments/

[6] http://techcrunch.com/2013/04/19/google-utilities-green-energy/

[7] https://www.google.com/about/company/philosophy/

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “Google’s concern with carbon emissions

  1. Google’s commitment to reducing environmental impact is truly setting a high standard for other companies to follow. I agree that their investments in wind and solar energy projects are mind blowing in their determination to not only fuel their own data centers but also to promote a cleaner future.

    It’s even more comforting to know that these grand-scale efforts stem from examples that began within Google’s own headquarters. Their on-campus green initiatives include investing in solar panels on their own roofs and achieving LEED green certification status in their building spaces. There also exists an extensive bike-to-work program and a company hybrid and electric car shuttle service, whose ridership jumped 60% last year. These initiatives alone have reduced over 16,000 metric tons of CO2 per year. Google has become an all-around company role model.

    [1] http://www.google.com/green/bigpicture/#beyondzero-datacenters
    [2] http://www.forbes.com/sites/toddwoody/2012/09/12/googles-business-is-booming-its-carbon-emissions-are-not/

  2. This was a very interesting read! It’s nice to see how some of the big name companies such as Google are trying to lessen their impact on the environment in terms of CO2 emissions and service projects. But for other tech companies such as Facebook and Twitter, do you know if they are looking into the same things, or doing a portion of the things that Google is doing?

    Also, is there a way for companies not as large as Google (think startups) to produce these same kind of effects? Are there any smaller improvements that can be done for these sorts of companies? $75 million for the solar PV cells is not a realistic investment for these. Perhaps installing a smaller PV cell on their buildings is a better idea?

  3. timsmith204

    You know I’m not sure. I haven’t really looked into any of that, but it would be nice to see if these other companies follow in Google’s footsteps if they haven’t already. Also, I think as PV continues trucking along its historical power law cost reduction I think we could see PV become a good option for businesses. Companies are good at making decisions 10-20 years out into the future (i.e. the lifetime of PV cells). Much more so than residents who don’t know if they’ll stay in a house and make purchasing PV worth it. So I think in the foreseeable future companies will see PV as a good option – especially since most of their electricity consumption needs are during peak demand, which happens to be the exact time that PV produces.

    So to answer your questions… I don’t really know directly. But I would say the future looks bright. (yes, that was a pun 😀 or at least an attempt at one)

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