Google discloses its carbon footprint for the first time

8 Sep 2011

Image courtesy of Google Green Blog

Google has today published its energy usage figures, revealing that its CO2 footprint – at almost 1.5m tonnes per year – is all down to the cloud: doing more with less.

The move comes after a report released earlier this year from Greenpeace, How Dirty is Your Data, looked at global cloud companies’ energy footprint, analysing what it called IT’s biggest disruption – cloud.

At the time, Apple topped the league in the Greenpeace report for its reliance on coal power (54.5pc), closely followed by Facebook at 53.2pc and IBM at 51.6pc. Next in line was HP at 49.4pc, followed by Twitter at 42.5pc, Google at 34.7pc, Microsoft at 34.1pc, Amazon at 28.5pc and Yahoo! at 18.3pc.

Google, however, announced today that in providing everything from Google+ to Gmail, its servers use less energy per user than a light left on for three hours.

“And, because we’ve been a carbon-neutral company since 2007, even that small amount of energy is offset completely, so the carbon footprint of your life on Google is zero,” said Urs Hoelzle, senior vice-president, Technical Infrastructure on the Google Green site.

The Big Picture

Google has added ‘The Big Picture‘ section to its site to showcase numbers on the internet giant’s annual energy usage and carbon footprint.

It says that through:

  • More efficient data centres, it has reduced its energy use by 50pc
  • The purchase of renewable energy and carbon offsets its emissions to zero.

“We started the process of getting to zero by making sure our operations use as little energy as possible. For the last decade, energy use has been an obsession. We’ve designed and built some of the most efficient servers and data centres in the world – using half the electricity of a typical data centre. Our newest facility in Hamina, Finland, opening this weekend, uses a unique seawater cooling system that requires very little electricity,” claimed Hoelzle.

“Whenever possible, we use renewable energy. We have a large solar panel installation at our Mountain View campus, and we’ve purchased the output of two wind farms (In Oklahoma and North Dakota) to power our data centres. For the greenhouse gas emissions we can’t eliminate, we purchase high-quality carbon offsets,” he added.

Of course, Google says it is not stopping there.

“By investing hundreds of millions of dollars in renewable energy projects and companies, we’re helping to create 1.7 GW of renewable power. That’s the same amount of energy used to power over 350,000 homes, and far more than what our operations consume,” added Hoelzle.

Yesterday, Google released a study to show “how cloud-based services can be much more energy efficient than locally hosted services”.

Google has also been investing in renewable energy projects across the US of late. Just in June, Google invested US$280m in a novel new fund with SolarCity to help homeowners across the US lease solar energy panels and help spur a clean-energy revolution.

Carmel Doyle was a long-time reporter with Silicon Republic