Google’s Energy Obsession

Over one billion Google searches are conducted each day, and for the first time last week, Google revealed how much electricity it takes to power a search engine of such massive proportions. The company said that its data centers continuously drew almost 260 million watts—or enough electricity to power 200,000 homes—to run Google searches, YouTube views, Gmail messaging and all advertising. Google says the average energy consumption for an individual user is small, however, about 180 watt-hours a month, or the equivalent of running a 60-watt light bulb for three hours.

Calling their energy use “an obsession,” Google has been continually funding green projects to help offset their greenhouse gas emissions, including making a groundbreaking $280 million investment this year in solar energy. Taking into account their additional environmental initiatives, such as the purchasing of carbon credits and wind power energy, the search engine claims they have actually been “carbon-neutral” since 2007.

In a post on the company’s blog, senior vice president of technical infrastructure Urs Hoelzle said Google has “been a carbon-neutral company since 2007… so the carbon footprint of your life on Google is zero.” He added that, “By investing hundreds of millions of dollars in renewable energy projects and companies, we’re helping to create 1.7 GW [gigawatts] of renewable power. That’s the same amount of energy used to power over 350,000 homes, and far more than what our operations consume.”

Developing energy efficient data centers is also a top priority for Google. Their newest data center, which opened this week in the small coastal town of Hamina, Finland, will be utilizing a seawater cooling system in place of a high-energy refrigeration system. The new data center was built in an old paper mill with a network of seawater intake tunnels underneath it, which were originally used to cool the paper mill’s equipment. Google will now fill these same tunnels with cold water from the Gulf of Finland to rid carry computers’ excess heat. The water will then go back into the Gulf once it’s mixed with more cold water so as to not affect any marine life.

“When we acquired the mill it already had a massive seawater intake tunnel built underneath it, which brings seawater from the Gulf of Finland into an adjacent heat transfer station. We decided to reuse as much infrastructure as possible at the site, and found good use for this water tunnel,” said Al Verney, a spokesman at Google Benelux.

And the future of Google’s commitment to sustainability looks bright. Their ongoing environmental goals and projects are now being documented on the new “Google Green” site, launched to showcase the “heart of their green efforts.” The site even discusses the company’s ambitions toward one day being powered completely by renewable energy: “Clean energy not only aligns with our goal to be one of the most sustainable companies on Earth, it also makes good business sense,” they report.