Google Reveals Energy Consumption to Tout Green Efforts

Google reveals that it chomped over 2 billion kilowatt hours of energy in 2010, and plans to source 35 percent of its energy use from clean power next year.

Google's (NASDAQ:GOOG) search, Gmail, YouTube, Google+ and other Web services use less energy per user than a light left on for 3 hours, according to the search engine provider, which on Sept. 8 provided for the first time detailed statistics on its energy use.

The move, accompanied by a new Google Green Website, is designed to provide more transparency around not only Google's power consumption, but the energy savings associated with its clean energy efforts.

Google consumed over 2 billion kilowatt-hours (kWh) worth of energy in 2010. Moreover, the company plans to source 35 percent of its electricity use from clean power by 2012 through a combination of buying clean power directly and the clean power sources of the utilities it buys power from.

Google has invested some $800 million in solar and wind power sources that will create 1.7 gigawatts of renewable energy, which could power more than 350,000 homes.

Google also revealed that the energy used to support its Web services, which run in the cloud and are provisioned to users from data centers all over the world, generated 1.46 million metric tons of carbon dioxide, which could have been much greater.

"Without efficiency measures in our data centers our footprint would have been about twice as big. By purchasing and generating renewable energy, as well as buying high-quality carbon offsets, we bring our carbon impact to zero," the company explained on its Green Website.

Calculating energy consumption can be a dolorous task, but Google tried to make it fun. For example, the company said it takes more energy to send a message in a bottle than it does to use Gmail for a year, provided one counts the energy used to make the bottle and the wine consumed.

What about search, which uses only 0.0004 kWh of energy to retrieve the average search query? The energy required to do 100 searches is equivalent to 1 hour's use of a 30-watt laptop, 28 minutes of a 60-watt bulb burning or producing 1.5 tablespoons of orange juice.

Or try this one: Google's servers required to play 1 minute of YouTube consume about 0.0002 kWh of energy. To give folks an idea of what that means on a more practical level, it takes about 8 seconds for the human body to burn off that same amount.

An here's another one: "You'd have to watch YouTube for three straight days for our servers to consume the amount of energy required to manufacture, package and ship a single DVD," explained David Jacobowitz, program manager for green engineering and operation.

How does Google keep a relatively low energy consumption profile and carbon footprint? The company has been intensely focused on building the most efficient data centers in the world.

For example, a new data center in Hamina, Finland, uses a unique seawater cooling system that consumes little electricity. At the Googleplex in Mountain View, Calif., the company has a massive solar panel installation.