What’s the environmental impact of performing a Google search, using Gmail or watching a video on YouTube?
For the first time last week, Google made public data on its energy consumption and carbon footprint: In 2010, the tech giant consumed more than 2.2 million megawatt hours of electricity and generated 1.46 million metric tons of carbon dioxide.
According to the New York Times, Google’s data centers – responsible for powering a Google search or YouTube video viewing – continuously draw almost 260 million watts. This is equivalent to about a quarter of the output of a nuclear power plant, the newspaper said, or more power than Salt Lake City uses, Gizmodo reported.
The Silicon Valley company has traditionally remained silent on its energy use, with industry experts speculating that these statistics would reveal too much information about company operations to competitors, the New York Times said.
Despite Google’s high energy use, the company maintained that its sustainability efforts have reduced its impact on the planet.
“Without efficiency measures in our data centers, our footprint would have been about twice as big,” the company said in its new section, The Big Picture, on the Google Green site. “By purchasing and generating renewable energy, as well as buying high-quality carbon offsets, we bring our carbon impact to zero.”
Google calculated the carbon emissions for some of its products and services and found that doing 100 Google searches releases as much pollution as burning a 60-watt light bulb for 28 minutes, while powering YouTube for three days uses as much energy as it takes to manufacture, package and deliver one DVD.
Google also told the New York Times that many of its products and services help make the world a greener place: for example, the amount of gasoline saved when someone searches for information on Google, rather than driving to the local library.