The recent debate-cum-disagreement about the environmental cost of Google searches made for fascinating reading.
On the one hand, Harvard University academic Alex Wissner-Gross went public claiming a typical Google search on a desktop PC produces about seven grams of CO2.
What does that actually mean? Well, he went as far as calculating that two Google searches would produce roughly the same amount of the greenhouse gas as boiling an electric kettle. Wissner-Gross argues that Google’s carbon emissions stem from the electricity used by the computer and by the power consumed by datacentres around the world — which also work hard to produce the fast results we’ve all come to demand.
He did add, however, that “Google isn’t any worse than any other datacentre operator”.
Still, Google was having none of it and in a statement on the company’s blog declared the good doctor’s figures were “many times too high”. It explained that a typical search returned a result in less than 0.2 seconds, which meant the search itself only used its servers for a few thousandths of a second. This, says Google, amounts to 0.0003 kWh of energy per search – or the equivalent to 0.2g of CO2.
“We’ve made great strides to reduce the energy used by our datacentres, but we still want clean and affordable sources of electricity for the power that we do use,” Google says in its statement. But whatever the real number, it does give reason to pause for thought.
How many searches do I do a day? A week? A year? Are they all absolutely necessary? How many kettles am I boiling? Is my aimless searching of facts, figures and useful titbits of info the world’s No.1 cause of global warming? I decided to find out.
I’m not sure if there’s an easier way but what I did, on a daily basis for a week, was wipe my search history then count the number of search terms, thus my number of searches. In one working week I recorded the following: 35, 28, 19, 31, 41, which equals 154 searches for the five days. I don’t know how that compares to others — I tend to do searches for news topics, background for articles, that sort of thing. So, I can reel off a dozen without really trying, which I guess can push it up a bit at times. During the weekend, it was about the same. I’ve been looking for a car and managed to clock up 38. All up it was a grand total of 192 searches.
According to Wissner-Gross’s calculations, that’s an awful lot of kettles in a week — 96 if my maths is up to scratch. Ninety-six kettles! Frankly, I’m astounded. But it gets worse. For the year … add the six, carry the two … er … bear with me for a moment … that’s a whopping 4992 kettles worth of power. I can’t quite believe it … my searching habits make me the equivalent of a small café!
I’d better go and put the kettle on. After getting such a shock I need a coffee.