Google efficiencies grow to include energy savings as well.
Words by Kent Fenwick

Imagine opening your electricity bill to find that you owe Hydro One $271 million. After recovering from your coronary, you might begin to wonder how anyone could rack up an annual bill that big. Well, a little company called Google pays about that much each year to run its pervasive search engine. If anyone needs to be thinking about ways to go green, it’s the big G.

With over 29,000 employees and over 1 million square feet of office space in three continents, it’s no surprise that Google uses a lot of power. What might be surprising are the legions of computers at work behind every Google search we perform. What separates Google from its competition is sheer volume of servers and computational power. When you search for “MississaugaLife,” Google doesn’t search each web page for that keyword, it searches “Google’s” web to find the match. That’s right: Google keeps a mirror image of the Internet inside their massive and distributed data centres.

Why would they make a copy of every web page? Simple—it’s a lot faster and more efficient. Searching each web page would take a long time. Considering there are roughly 13.7 billion web pages, it could take forever even with the fastest computers. Google knew this wouldn’t work, so they built a network of automated programs that scan the web for new/changing content. For every page on the Internet, Google has a copy of it, complete with a table of contents and index to make finding things really fast. All of this means that Google needs a lot of storage. A lot of storage means a lot of computers. A lot of computers means a lot of power used.

I know what you might be saying: “Can’t Google easily afford that energy bill? Don’t they make billions of dollars a year?” Yes, that’s true. However, being a proactive company, they know that this number is only going to go up. And with a corporate slogan like, “Don’t be evil,” they can hardly overlook the impact of their electricity consumption (and more importantly their carbon dioxide emissions) on the environment.

Rather than shying away, Google opened the books. In September 2011, Google self-reported their environmental impact data. They received a lot of praise from environmental groups as they are one of the few high-tech companies to do so willingly. Here are some fun highlights:

100 Google searches is equivalent to running a 60- watt light bulb for 28 minutes.

1 minute of YouTube is equivalent to the energy your body burns in 8 seconds.

3 days of YouTube is equivalent to the energy to manufacture, package and ship a DVD.

All of this adds up to a whopping 2,259,998 MWh in 2010 which equates to 1,457,982 metric tons of carbon dioxide. So how is it that Google is considered green? Isn’t that a lot of energy?

Certainly it is, but what’s remarkable is that Google works very hard to keep these numbers as low as possible. In fact, to provide each individual Google user with search, e-mail, YouTube, Documents and all the other Google services for one month, Google uses the equivalent energy of leaving a 60-watt light bulb on for three hours. (Note that this does not include the power your devices consume.) Think about that!

Google also purchases carbon offsets, which are programs and sponsorships which can help bring their carbon footprint down to zero. One of Google’s favourite offsets is sponsoring farms that install high-tech air scrubbers which reduce the significant carbon dioxide emissions produced by livestock.

Roughly 25 per cent of Google’s energy came from renewable sources in 2010 and they are projecting over 35 per cent by 2012. Their lofty vision is to create enough renewable power to meet all of their energy demands and donate the rest. To show the market that they are serious, in late September 2011, Google invested $75 million in Clean Power Ventures, a company that builds solar power generators for homes. Combine that with their August 2011 investment of $280 million in SolarCity, a company that helps businesses and homes use solar power as their primary source of power, and Google is poised to be a leader in solar power in the coming decades.

So what can your company do to stay green? You can look at using Bullfrog Power (, where you pay a premium to ensure that your energy is green and provided by local wind and hydroelectric facilities. You can also investigate the Ontario Solar Energy Rebate program ( which provides a rebate for using solar power at your business. Finally, consider using Gmail and Google Docs to power your company’s e-mail and document sharing instead of purchasing servers and setting up your own in-house system. Take advantage of their efficiency and reduce energy use while saving money.

Google certainly has its head in the cloud but its feet are firmly planted on green grass.

For more information, be sure to check out where you’ll also find practical tips on how to make your business greener.