The Times Online in the UK released a news story Sunday about Google’s CO2 emissions coming from their data centers. Alex Wissner-Gross, a Harvard physicist, estimated that about 7 grams of CO2 results from each Google search. Wissner-Gross said “Google operates huge data centres around the world that consume a great deal of power.” The Times Online states that “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.”
Google Refutes. Google won’t tell anyone its energy consumption and carbon footprint. It also won’t tell anyone the locations of its data centers. Joseph Romm, who was acting assistant secretary of energy for energy efficiency and renewable energy for the Clinton Administration says the Harvard research is off. And Google quickly posted on its blog that the number is more like 0.2 grams of CO2 per search, which is about 35 times lower than the Harvard estimate.
The Researcher Weighs In. The Times Online featured the story on January 11. Google responded on its blog the same day. The next day, Wissner-Gross told TechNewsWorld that he never even mentioned Google in his research. He said, “For some reason, in their story on the study, the Times had an ax to grind with Google. Our work has nothing to do with Google. Our focus was exclusively on the Web overall, and we found that it takes on average about 20 milligrams of CO2 per second to visit a Web site.” And the tea kettle? Wissner-Gross said, “They did that. I have no idea where they go those statistics.” So it seems some of Wissner-Gross’s quotes (which he’s said are true) were taken out of context for the Times Online story.
Is the Times Online to Blame?. Google’s spokesperson Jamie Yood said that one of the Times article’s authors had interviewed a Google engineer who is responsible for making sure data centers are more energy efficient, but none of his information or quotes were used in the story.
Wissner-Gross has said that “everything online has a definite environmental impact.” And he believes Google would agree with him on that. No doubt Google does, as Google’s corporate site has a section dedicated to efficient computing.
Who Wins? Google’s estimate of 0.2 grams hasn’t been verified. So the number doesn’t matter in my opinion because we all know that Internet searches take up energy – the energy to run the computer, to have the lights on in the house, etc. Almost everything we do takes up energy, including Internet activities, so no one wins. And, is it Google’s fault that we are searching so heavily through its Web site? We could go elsewhere to search, but it’s not like we wouldn’t be spending energy searching on another Web site. So what’s the difference?