Using Google Search Produces CO2. Let's Get Things Straight.

By January 13, 2009

Beware to what you are reading online. I was about to publish a post starting by "Tough day for Google yesterday" after that the British website published an article on Sunday based on a not-yet-released controversial study.  The article along with the report would affirm that a typical search on Google generates about 7g of CO2 and uses "half the energy as boiling a kettle of water". The article's got a lot of attention and has been talked a lot everywhere across the web, and also on CNBC, mostly negatively. We have been updated on the story and the author of the study, Alex Wissner-Gross, a Hardvard University physicist, wanted to set the record straight. He explained himself on So I am actually rewriting my post starting by "Tough day for TimesOnline today". Tough day for TimesOnline yesterday, because the first thing you don't want to do when managing an online news site is to have wrong information on your website.

The London based publication started its article by: "Performing two Google searches from a desktop computer can generate about the same amount of carbon dioxide as boiling a kettle for a cup of tea, according to new research." While clearing this straight, the study author affirms he never mentioned Google in the study. "For some reason, in their story on the study, the Times had an ax to grind with Google," Wissner-Gross told TechNewsWorld. "Our work has nothing to do with Google. Our focus was exclusively on the Web overall, and we found that it takes on average about 20 milligrams of CO2 per second to visit a Web site."

"The example involving tea kettles? They did that. I have no idea where they got those statistics," Wissner-Gross said to TechNewsWorld.

By a post on its blog, Google responded to the TimesOnline journalists:

"We thought it would be helpful to explain why this number is *many* times too high. Google is fast — a typical search returns results in less than 0.2 seconds. Queries vary in degree of difficulty, but for the average query, the servers it touches each work on it for just a few thousandths of a second. Together with other work performed before your search even starts (such as building the search index) this amounts to 0.0003 kWh of energy per search, or 1 kJ. For comparison, the average adult needs about 8000 kJ a day of energy from food, so a Google search uses just about the same amount of energy that your body burns in ten seconds.

In terms of greenhouse gases, one Google search is equivalent to about 0.2 grams of CO2. The current EU standard for tailpipe emissions calls for 140 grams of CO2 per kilometer driven, but most cars don't reach that level yet. Thus, the average car driven for one kilometer (0.6 miles for those in the U.S.) produces as many greenhouse gases as a thousand Google searches."

Google operates the most efficient data centers and is taking its energy consumption very seriously, aiming at making their computing infrastructure as sustainable as possible. (See their comminitment on going green.)

Google is a highly successful company and some writers still can't help dramatizing everything for the sake of gaining few more hundreds of thousands of clicks. The Times hasn't published anything yet to clarify their side of the story on the incident.

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