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Google Details and Defends Its Use of Electricity 237

Posted by Soulskill
from the it's-not-easy-being-green dept.
theodp writes "On Thursday, Google finally provided information on its energy usage, revealing that it continuously uses enough electricity to power 200,000 homes. Still, the search giant contends that by using more power than Salt Lake City, Google actually makes the world a greener place. Google says people should consider things like the amount of gasoline saved when someone conducts a Google search rather than, say, driving to the library. As Police Chief Martin Brody might say, 'Google's going to need a bigger windmill!'"
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Google Details and Defends Its Use of Electricity

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  • What? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by samjam (256347) on Friday September 09, 2011 @07:49AM (#37350338) Homepage Journal

    Google is not simply using that energy, that energy is being used by google users all over the world.

    Those same users are also using energy locally to connect to the internet.

    • Besides you wont find information about these important topics in the library 1. contagion 2. green bay packers 3. donald driver 4. drew brees 5. tonga 6. aaron rodgers 7. go daddy 8. 9 11 9. irb 10. blackout 11. new zealand 12. super bowl 2011 13. 9/11 14. iceland 15. new orleans saints 16. reggie bush 17. michael j fox 18. kid rock 19. jordin sparks 20. javascript
  • by Aquitaine (102097) <sam.iamsam@org> on Friday September 09, 2011 @07:50AM (#37350350) Homepage

    Google is also paying for their energy.

      • by gandhi_2 (1108023)

        Which is fine. You and I are the ones actually "using" google's electricity.

        • by cayenne8 (626475)
          Hmm...a LARGE IT/Information company uses a lot of electricity....big news?

          And seriously...is someone out there complaining? Is this killing a spotted owl out there somewhere?

          • Hmm...a LARGE IT/Information company uses a lot of electricity....big news?

            And seriously...is someone out there complaining? Is this killing a spotted owl out there somewhere?

            Seriously! How much electricity does Google use in comparison to, say, the New York Transit System, or Alcoa, or GM?

      • by elrous0 (869638) * on Friday September 09, 2011 @08:25AM (#37350596)

        Every bulk buyer get a big discount. If you think google uses a lot, you should see what some industrial companies that use electricity-heavy manufacturing processes (like the aluminum industry) uses. A lot of those guys have large power plants dedicated solely to them.

    • Not likely. A company the size of Google when looking for a place to build a facility gets courted by many municipalities. One of the first things offered for free are utilities. If you look around at the largest businesses in your city, they more than likely pay no utility bills what-so-ever.
  • by WindBourne (631190) on Friday September 09, 2011 @07:52AM (#37350360) Journal
    that they are investing into clean energy. Other companies run around screaming that they want coal, while Google says AE. Personally, I wish that Google would make use of some of that money to help create demand for geo-thermal energy, rather than simply investing in it. Honestly, if they insisted on buying energy directly from some geo-thermal locations, they could still manage to keep their costs low, while creating enough demand to stimulate it.
    • They kinda have too. If Google uses that much power, their Power bill(s) is probably a major expense, finding ways to reduce it by a few percentage, can save a lot of money. Green Energy like wind and solar, needs big power users, who see energy as a major expense and has the resources and will to invest in making cheaper alternatives. Renewable energy sources tend to look good on paper you can get Cheaper Energy in theory after the initial capital expense.

      • by bberens (965711)
        Exactly. People don't realize that big energy users are the people who would love to save energy the most. The trucking industry, for example, would LOVE to find some tech that would improve their gas mileage by even 1%, it would save a lot of these companies Millions of dollars per year.
        • by geekoid (135745)

          Then why doesn't google put there data centers in Arizona and power it with a 200Mw solar thermal plant? they could even sell the energy to a nearby by town.

          • by compro01 (777531)

            Probably because the extra expense of cooling in that climate would outweigh the benefit of better solar collection.

    • by drinkypoo (153816)

      Geothermal cannot be done safely, cleanly, or efficiently in the USA, or any other corporatism. We have the world's largest geothermal plant in the world's most geothermally active region and it is not only continually over budget and under production, but cleaning the turbine blades led to a superfund site where they buried the detritus removed from them, and has also produced a big fat layer-cake of arsenic and other wonderful materials on site, a cake that is just waiting to break open due to seismic act

    • by lgw (121541)

      There's just not enough geothermal power available to be a primary power source. It's great for towns with a local hotspot (though if locally overused it can apparantly cause earthquakes and strange environmental damage), but it doesn't scale.

      By comparison, per square meter of the Earth's surface, there's about 10000 times as more solar power than geothermal power.

  • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Friday September 09, 2011 @07:53AM (#37350362) Journal
    You will find that humanity's desire to fill the aching void of its pitiful existence with lolcats and porn is not, in fact, our doing.

    Further, because power is one of our major operating costs, you will find that our competitors are unlikely to be able to deliver lolcats and porn appreciably more efficiently than we can.

    Here endeth the justification.
  • by lecheiron (2441744) on Friday September 09, 2011 @07:54AM (#37350368)
    but rather are they using the electricity efficiently
    • Google's datacenter design is an industry secret, but it is routinely reported they are amazingly efficient.

      They have opened up about some things, such as their power supply design. They've asked the rest of the world to adopt this, so the entire world would reduce energy consumption. They also run on DC rather than AC. And they don't use mammoth UPS protection. They have a small battery built into each server.

      It looks like this story is part of a smear campaign to make Google look like evil for using all t

      • I'm not an electrical engineer. Why is using DC more efficient than AC? I'm assuming it arrives in the building as AC.

        • by travisd (35242)

          Anytime you convert AC DC there's some loss due to inefficiency. They can create DC centrally more efficiently than doing it in each and every server chassis (like your home computer does, in the power supply). This efficiency has a two-fold effect as well, since that lossy conversion results in heat as a byproduct, so the more efficient you are with getting power from generation to work, the less you spend on cooling it too.

        • by swillden (191260) <shawn-ds@willden.org> on Friday September 09, 2011 @11:54AM (#37353070) Homepage Journal

          I'm not an electrical engineer. Why is using DC more efficient than AC? I'm assuming it arrives in the building as AC.

          Computers use DC, not AC.

          This means that at some point you have to do the conversion. The question is whether it's more efficient to do it in a small converter in each machine (traditional power supply unit), or to do it in a big converter that then feeds many boxes. The question isn't trivial because even though the big converter is unquestionably more efficient, you then have to deliver the DC power to the machines, and DC transmission is less efficient than AC transmission, meaning you either lose more energy to resistance or have to use bigger wires. Another common wrinkle is to convert AC to 48-volt DC then put small step-down transformers in each server or perhaps on each rack. This is because transmission of higher voltages is more efficient.

          Bottom line is that there are a lot of tradeoffs and it's really not obvious what the best way to do it is, and Google's put a lot of skull sweat and experimentation into figuring out what's most efficient, and has (I think) published it.

          (Disclaimer: I work for Google, but don't know anything about how power is managed in Google data centers, and haven't even read what Google has published to the world on the topic. Oh, and I am not an electrical engineer either.)

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by tangent (3677)

          Computers run on DC. The big power supply unit in your PC is an AC-DC converter.

          The speculation is that Google is doing a couple of different things in regards to power.

          First, they are probably doing the AC to DC conversion at the building's power inlet, and distributing DC to the racks so that each piece of equipment doesn't have to have its own power supply. One big power supply is generally more efficient than lots of small power supplies, not just in conversion efficiency but also in hard equipment cost

  • by Trepidity (597) <delirium-slashdotNO@SPAMhackish.org> on Friday September 09, 2011 @07:55AM (#37350380)

    The more relevant comparison seems like it'd be to other commercial users. It's not likely that if Google were disbanded, it would turn into residential population; it's more likely that, if we didn't have Google, we'd have other companies employing these people and occupying a certain niche of the economy.

    From that perspective, is Google's energy usage high or low for a company of its market-cap / revenue / profits? For example, it has almost exactly the same market cap as Wal-Mart; how does the energy usage of the two companies compare, both in terms of overall size, and things like greenness of the source?

    • by KDR_11k (778916)

      Considering it's Walmart we're talking about they're probably importing cheap energy from unshielded nuclear power plants in China or something.

    • For example, it has almost exactly the same market cap as Wal-Mart; how does the energy usage of the two companies compare, both in terms of overall size, and things like greenness of the source?

      While it might be interesting, comparing the power usage of Google and Wal-Mart is about as useful as the above comparison of Google to residences. Internet search & internet advertising are very different businesses from retail department stores & warehouses. Instead compare Google's power use to that of Microsoft, Yahoo, and other computing/data centre companies. If possible, account for the differences in what each company does. As for Wal-Mart, compare them to K-Mart, Kroger, and maybe even Ama

    • by kiwimate (458274)

      Not really that odd. How do you make a figure of that much power consumption relatable to the average reader?

      I have no idea how big Wal-Mart is, but saying it has the same market cap as Google is just as pointless. Wal-Mart has thousands (I assume; like I said, I have no idea how to quantify how big they really are, just that they're really really big) of stores, each with a moderate HVAC system attached.

      If you want to go that way, you also have to compare transportation costs - not relevant for Google, hig

    • by LWATCDR (28044)

      I guess I find this a red hearing at best.
      1. Power to Google is a cost of doing business they are doing all they can to reduce the their power consumption for no other reason the less they spend on power the more profit.
      2. It is us that is using the power.
      It is kind of like people complaining about GM selling SUVs. They sold SUVs because that is what people bought. If people bought small fuel efficient cars then they would have made them.
      Rule one. Don't expect companies to make you do the right thing.
      Rule t

      • by ryanov (193048)

        No, they sold SUV's because they were profitable. It took them a little while to figure out how to get people to buy them, but they pulled it off. And by profitable, I don't mean they sold well, I mean they cost much less to make than they're sold for.

    • by Pionar (620916)

      I don't think that's a useful metric either. Google doesn't have thousands of large stores that individually use a lot of energy. Most of Google's energy usage comes from (I assume) the few dozen large datacenters.

  • by hey! (33014) on Friday September 09, 2011 @08:10AM (#37350470) Homepage Journal

    by defending Steve Ballmer's use of oxygen.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 09, 2011 @08:12AM (#37350490)

    So it's a fair trade.

  • Google says huh.. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by kelemvor4 (1980226) on Friday September 09, 2011 @08:17AM (#37350538)

    . Google says people should consider things like the amount of gasoline saved when someone conducts a Google search rather than, say, driving to the library.

    Sure, because the guy who just searched Google to find out what goatse is would clearly have gone to the library to look up such trivial information had Google not been available....

  • In our digital era, if it weren't for Google to offer Search, emails, video streaming, maps, etc ... another company would do it. With that in mind, the question becomes: which company offers these services in the greenest way ? I'm pretty sure Google does.
  • Al Gore didn't invent electricity to be wasted on the internet.

  • Wehen I was a kid, we were more green.

    Specifically, my dad had a very cool looking light green '67 Ford Galaxie 500 with a 390 cubic inch V8. When I needed info for a report, my mom used it to drive me down to the public library, probably getting about 9 mpg. So we consumed about 20 kWh worth of fully leaded fuel to do a few simple queries. That's probably enough energy to run one of Google's server nodes for more than a week, but at least we did it in style.

  • by aaarrrgggh (9205) on Friday September 09, 2011 @08:31AM (#37350652)

    I did a back-of-napkin calculation last night, and came up with about 30-33% of the energy consumption would be related to office operations, and the remainder data center operations. Their data center total came out to something like 170MW demand. Given that a 100,000 square foot data center would be expected to draw about 20MW all-in, the total was much lower than I would have expected. For some reason, I pictured their demand being much higher.

    As for alternative energy, green energy, and efficiency, Google really is doing a good job. Comparing them to Bank of America, I would say Google does significantly more for the kWh.

  • Why is the total electricity used by Google a problem? Google has a huge network of data centers, offices and other business entities that use electricity. The total amount of electricity used is going to be huge.

    The real question... has and is Google working to use that electricity wisely and with an eye to maximizing value and minimizing waste? Well from what I have read over the years the answer is Yes.

    Everyone, GM, Toyota, the US government, The City of LA, and even my dear old Mom uses electricity (

    • by geekoid (135745)

      Total used, how it's produced and where it is produced should also be scrutinized, as well as efficiency.

  • Only a fool could imagine that the internet uses more resources than the alternative - mailing or faxing all documents, visiting various libraries in person rather than using Wikipedia and Gutenberg where possible, assembling for all semi-important meetings in person rather than teleconferencing (admittedly most organizations still don't make good use of teleconference), rural folks visiting book stores and computer stores in person rather than getting it shipped, etc.

    Why don't FedEx or the New York Publ
  • by uncledrax (112438) on Friday September 09, 2011 @08:43AM (#37350782) Homepage

    "Google says people should consider things like the amount of gasoline saved when someone conducts a Google search rather than, say, driving to the library."

    This is exactly akin to Software/Content makers saying that every piracy count is exactly one lost sale. If I had to actually drive to the library, I wouldn't actually DRIVE each time I was wondering about some trivial answer to a meaningless question.

    All of that said, data centers use electricity.. if we want to do anything e- or i- (or o- or u-, and sometimes y-) we need to realize that. Google is well aware of how much it spends on electricity, and I'm pretty sure they take steps to try and minimize their expenses (such as using warm-boxes instead of cooling ambient air, etc..)

    • I think the bigger problem is that IT removes the need for jobs. Without them we have less tax income to do anything, such as mitigate co2 emissions.

      • by Arlet (29997)

        That makes no sense. There is no benefit to useless jobs. All that matters is productivity, and if you can achieve that with less people, it's only better.

    • by BitZtream (692029)

      If I had to actually drive to the library, I wouldn't actually DRIVE each time I was wondering about some trivial answer to a meaningless question.

      Okay, now what about that major report due for school. Or any other non-trivial meaningless question that you would have went to the library for and now don't have to.

      They aren't implying they are great because of the energy you saved not doing something you wouldn't have done before, even if your habits didn't change, and you searched once or twice a month, Google would STILL be saving massive amounts of energy, and on top of it, they're answering millions of extra meaningless trivial questions.

  • Doesn't Google use Bloom Boxes? [bloomenergy.com] And my personal vex with Bloom Energy is that they don't make a small business version, (cue Sour Grapes Face).
    • by Leebert (1694) *

      I was curious what a Bloom Box is. So I looked it up. From http://www.bloomenergy.com/products/ [bloomenergy.com]:

      "Each Bloom Energy Server provides 100kW of power, enough to meet the baseload needs of 100 average homes or a small office building... day and night, in roughly the footprint of a standard parking space. For more power simply add more energy servers."

      100kW for 100 average homes? What exactly are they smoking? You can't even run a hair dryer in all 100 homes for that.

  • "Windmills do not work that way!"

  • reading that google uses mainly consumer hardware for their servers, lots and lots of them. Not even bothering to remove/turn off/ fix servers when hard drives go bad. Power usage is actually a pretty major concideration in enterprise gear.. I wonder if the majority of their power usage is being wasted because of this choice.
  • Okay, honestly there are very few things that I look up on google that I would drive to a library to research.

    • by geekoid (135745)

      There are tons of thing I and my kids look up that we would need to go to the library for; however that's just one small exampl of hos overall point.

      How many things to you do on the internet that you would have had to leave your house to do? How much less physical mail do you have compared to email?

  • Since when does anyone have to MORALLY justify their energy usage?

    Google does some shady things. Using power is not among them.

    It's a commodity. They purchase it. Sheesh.

  • Because the "knowledge industry" is so large these days it makes a measurable impact on natural resources and the GDP.

    I'd like to see a comparison to the energy usage in producing a days consumption of food or living in a house. Those numbers are nto small either.
  • Google may have both the most expensive and efficient supercomputer on the planet. This is not contradictory, just huge.
  • As if there are no commercial, governmental, and industrial energy users in Salt Lake City.
    200,000 homes do not use the same amount of power as a city of 186,000.
  • I'm really tired of the media knowingly and intentionally misleading their readers into assuming something. The use of absolute figures in the knowledge that most readers have no sense of scale is intentionally stating information out of context.

    Jump down to paragraph 5 and the facts are made more relevant due to context:

    when it calculates that average energy consumption on the level of a typical user the amount is small, about 180 watt-hours a month, or the equivalent of running a 60-watt light bulb for th

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