Carbon Footprint of a Google Search

Vertatique has been tracking statistics about the carbon costs of everyday computer activities dating back to our March 2007 look at Second Life. These stats can be both useful for awareness-building and hard to get right, as we were reminded by the 2009 flap over Google's search footprint*. Google subsequently released more statistics on its unit energy consumption and CO2e footprint.

Google reports, "…the electricity Google uses to provide each user with Google products for a year [is] 2.26 kWh per user per year, or 188 watt-hours per month. That’s about the same as using a 60W light bulb for 3 hours (180 watt-hours)." Google notes that "In calculating these numbers, we included all the electricity used by Google" and "…any laptop, phone or other device used to get online to use Google products also consumes energy…". Google goes on reveal, "…our annual footprint per user is 1.46 kg of CO2, and a year's worth of using Google is about 2.23 kWh per user, our footprint is equivalent to driving about 6 miles in car. This is assuming an average of 33.7 miles per gallon of gas, with each gallon resulting in 19.42 lb of CO2." (Greepeace has published data suggesting Google, like other large cloud providers of consumer services, is still too dependent on coal.)

What is you organization's unit energy consumption and CO2e footprint?

A Wordstream infographic offers these perspectives on a Google search:

Google search(s) for produces the same amount of CO2 as
1 "soylent green" driving a car 3 inches.
5,100 "nilbog" 1 cycle through an EnergyStar Dishwasher.
15,000 "funny cat pictures" making a cheezburger.

* Original 2009-05-28 post and reader comment about it:

In this case, the founder of a web site selling ICT carbon offsets was identified, incorrectly he says, as stating that a typical Google Web search generates ~7 grams of CO2. You can read about the controversy and Google's response, which calculates "one Google search is equivalent to about 0.2 grams of CO2." The UK Times, which reported the original story, defends the 7 gram number: "we were referring to a Google search that may involve several attempts to find the object being sought and that may last for several minutes. Various experts put forward carbon emission estimates for such a search of 1g-10g depending on the time involved and the equipment used."

Home Computing & Energy Saving


You raise an excellent point, to which I add; are we looking at Google, or the user, or both?

Pointing at Google is clearly a fun thing to do! We think ourselves most superior if we can find something to critique, may explain why we all have so many opinions om our president?

But, lets avoid that rabbit run, and return to the subject of Google. How about we leave it to Google to tell us how much energy they use per average per query. If we get involved we could we can argue almost anything for a single search. At the silly level we could even suggest that a search done during a quiet time was using no additional energy. If we wanted to be obtuse, we could even argue it was reducing the average cost per search by using base energy more efficiently.

On this basis, and assuming that Google's total searches are a valid statistical model, we can each count how many searches we do, and we will know what we have used.

The real problem though is; do we care? and the reason why I so strongly agree with you.

We will do anything to distract ourselves from our own responsibilities - like buy an efficient notebook, recycle old equipment, and to be quite mundane - just turn it off, and practice patience while waiting for it to reboot a few hours later.

I am told that the only way to create change is through the pocketbook? But I do not accept this, we all have a conscience and an inbuilt knowledge that we are to be good stewards of the natural resources we have been blessed with.

I refuse to threaten that the planet will die if you do not change your use of energy! Any rational thought will tell you that the mere "burp" in "name your pet carbon emission here" will do much damage than you can do.

But if you want to feel good about yourself, take a look at what you consume and make a small start to be a better steward.

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