Googles Mixed Message

Opinion: Google's power consumption overshadows its eco-goodness.

Yes, a Googlemobile. And why not?

Now that Google has rolled over Microsoft in creating online applications and has battered Yahoo into putting its CEO, Terry Semel, out to pasture while bringing back co-founder Jerry Yang, why not show that Google doesnt need to wait for Detroit to catch up in the automobile race? Why not just build its own Googlemobile?

A nifty plug-in hybrid car, new plans for power supplies and green PCs, and solar panels wherever there is a square foot of roof space must make Google about the most energy-conscious company around, right? Im not so sure about that, but let me back up (figuratively) a bit.

First, lets try to get a fix on all those Google entities. is the philanthropic arm of the Google mother ship, with about $1 billion in startup funding from company founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin. One of the first efforts by—lets just call it Gorg for short—is a hybrid electric car that recharges itself using power produced by solar panels. You can read all about it at If you think of a typical hybrid with an outside plug and extra batteries for using stored electricity as the primary power source, you have the basic idea.

"Weve been working with Google engineers and Hymotion/A123Systems to build a small fleet of plug-in hybrids, adding an external plug and additional batteries to a regular hybrid car so that it runs on electricity with gasoline (or even better, biofuels) to extend the driving range for longer trips," the Gorg blog states before adding some breathless prose about biofuels, solar panels and general eco-goodness.

/zimages/5/28571.gifClick here to read more about Googles efforts to go green.

Now, back to Googles other eco-goodness. Earlier in June, Google, Intel and a bunch of PC companies unveiled the Climate Savers Computing Initiative, which aims to correct a host of legacy PC design choices that, while good at boosting computing power, were boneheaded in wasting electrical power.

"Believe it or not, the average desktop PC wastes nearly half the power delivered to it. Half! This wasted electricity unnecessarily increases the cost of powering a computer, and it also increases the emission of greenhouse gases," the Climate Savers group says on its home page.

In fact, Id guess the average PC wastes more than half the power reaching the system, and by the time you add up wasted heat in the system and at the component level, the amount of juice actually devoted to computations is dismally small.

And finally, we have the Googleplex itself. In October, Google announced in its blog that it is converting its Mountain View, Calif., campus to use solar power. The company intends to install solar panels that generate 1.6 megawatts of power, about the same as that used by 1,000 California houses. Thats all well and good. Google is the latest of the high-tech companies to jump on the green bandwagon.

But wait a minute. Isnt this the company that has built a huge search engine business by cobbling together at least 1 million (and counting) low-end servers? And, in addition to its Mountain View campus, is building huge server complexes in Oklahoma, North Carolina and Oregon to be near cheap power?

How much power does Google actually use to enable us to search for vital information about Paris Hilton or box-office receipts for "The Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer"? Figure that each server consumes about $200 per year in electricity costs. (Im not even counting cooling costs.)

Why doesnt Google break out in its SEC reports what it spends on electricity to keep all those servers running? Because it doesnt have to report those costs, and, if it did, all that talk about hybrid cars, solar panels and power supplies would look very shallow against the big power consumption number.

Come on, Google, fess up.

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