Googling vs. boiling

Interesting ‘revelation’ in Times Online.

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, according to new research.

While millions of people tap into Google without considering the environment, a typical search generates about 7g of CO2 Boiling a kettle generates about 15g. “Google operates huge data centres around the world that consume a great deal of power,” said Alex Wissner-Gross, a Harvard University physicist whose research on the environmental impact of computing is due out soon. “A Google search has a definite environmental impact.”

Google is secretive about its energy consumption and carbon footprint. It also refuses to divulge the locations of its data centres. However, with more than 200m internet searches estimated globally daily, the electricity consumption and greenhouse gas emissions caused by computers and the internet is provoking concern. A recent report by Gartner, the industry analysts, said the global IT industry generated as much greenhouse gas as the world’s airlines – about 2% of global CO2 emissions. “Data centres are among the most energy-intensive facilities imaginable,” said Evan Mills, a scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California. Banks of servers storing billions of web pages require power.

Hmmm… This Wissner-Gross seems to be a bright lad. He’s a Fellow at the Harvard environment Center where his bio says that in 2003 he “became the last person in MIT history to receive a triple major, with bachelors in Physics, Electrical Engineering, and Mathematics, while simultaneously graduating first in his class from the MIT School of Engineering as the Henry Ford II Scholar.” According to his home page he has seven granted or pending patents, and fourteen published papers in addition to his PhD. And he was a boy soprano for the New York City Opera. He’s also set up CO2stats, a site that claims that it “makes your site carbon neutral and shows visitors you’re environmentally friendly”.

I’m not convinced by the search vs. kettle calculation, but I am sure that the environmental impact of computing is one of the Next Big Stories.

Thanks to Darren Waters for the original link.