[LINK] Geo-thermal: clean, permanent electricity

Michael Still mikal at stillhq.com
Mon Jan 12 16:05:06 AEDT 2009

Brendan Scott wrote:
> Eric Scheid wrote:
>> On 12/1/09 10:15 AM, "Pilcher, Fred" <Fred.Pilcher at act.gov.au>
>> wrote:
>>> Thank you both. While it's arguably been a little off-topic, it's
>>> been fascinating and informative in the best traditions of LINK.
>> To get back on topic, perhaps they could instead route their water
>> pipes through a different heat source.
>> I'm thinking google server farms...
>>> PERFORMING two Google searches from a desktop computer can
>>> generate a similar amount of carbon dioxide to boiling the kettle
>>> for a cup of tea. While millions of people tap into Google
>>> without a thought for the environment, a typical search generates
>>> about 7g of carbon dioxide. Boiling a kettle generates about 15g.
>> <http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/business/story/0,28124,24900863-501801
>>  2,00.html>
> Presumably the bulk of this is the indexing rather than the search?
> If search volumes halved, I assume the power usage at google would
> drop by less than half.

This story appears to have originated with the Times of London:


The facts in the article are pretty sparse, but this is telling:

A separate estimate from John Buckley, managing director of
carbonfootprint.com, a British environmental consultancy, puts the CO2
emissions of a Google search at between 1g and 10g, depending on whether
you have to start your PC or not. Simply running a PC generates between
40g and 80g per hour, he says. of CO2 Chris Goodall, author of Ten
Technologies to Save the Planet, estimates the carbon emissions of a
Google search at 7g to 10g (assuming 15 minutes’ computer use).

So, we're not talking 15 grams to do a search. 15 grams seems like a
high side estimate for booting your computer, doing a search, and then
reading the results. It seems like the biggest culprit here is the home PC.

This is a better response than I could write:

Are We Killing The Planet One Google Search At A Time?
by Jason Kincaid on January 11, 2009

Right now the top stories on Techmeme revolve around a new piece in The
Times of London that focuses on The Environmental Impact of Google
Searches. In it, Physicist Alex Wissner-Gross (a star MIT graduate who
is now at Harvard) posits that a single Google search generates 7g of
CO2, versus around 15g for a tea kettle - something he calls a “definite
environmental impact.”

That sounds bad, right?

There’s no doubt that Google consumes a massive amount of energy, with
hundreds of millions of searches conducted every day and data centers
scattered across the globe. But let’s try to shed a little perspective
on things.

A single book runs around 2,500 grams of CO2, or more than 350 times a
Google search. By some estimates, a single cheeseburger has a carbon
footprint of around 3,600 grams - over 500 times larger than a Google
search. Granted, meat in general has a notoriously large carbon
footprint, but if you’re genuinely concerned about your environmental
impact then try cutting a burger from your diet every week and search
guilt-free (you may even lose a few pounds).

And isn’t it possible that Google may actually be helping the
environment in some ways? I can’t count how many times I’ve been able to
use Google in lieu of driving to the library to look up a fact (each car
trip would have had carbon costs orders of magnitude larger than that
Google search). I’ve used Google Transit dozens of times to figure out
train and bus schedules so that I wouldn’t have to drive my car. And
surely the search engine has helped countless green-minded folk find a
website where they could purchase carbon credits.

My issue with the article isn’t that it is factually incorrect - it’s
that it paints Google as a malevolent force shrouded in secrecy, and
that every time you use it (or one of the other mentioned companies like
Twitter), you’re adding to the problem. In a word, it’s alarmist. Google
could probably become more energy efficient, but I fear that articles
like this will lead people to shy away from the Internet. Unlike gas
guzzling SUVs, the web helps connect and enrich humanity. By all means
encourage web companies to become as carbon neutral as possible, but
don’t make energy-conscious consumers afraid of their browsers.

And finally, one last bit that is more concerned with the journalistic
practices of The Times than Google. Alex Wissner-Gross co-founded a cool
startup called CO2Stats that we’ve covered a few times in the past (it
was also a finalist in The Crunchies). The site helps websites stay as
green as possible by offering carbon credits as well as badges to help
promote the cause. The Times article only mentions the site in passing,
and fails to acknowledge that CO2Stats is a company that earns money,
not just an informative website. I sincerely doubt there is anything
sinister going on, but such a major potential source of bias seems
worthy of more than just a mention.



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