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Google uses a heap of power, says it’s green

Google, in playing its role as the world’s accumulator of data, uses a whole fleet of data centers worldwide. There’s no doubt they use an enormous amount of power, but until now Google has refused to share any statistics. That’s all changed with Google Green, a new website dedicated to bringing more transparency into the company’s energy usage.

While powering Google searches, YouTube, Gchat emoticons and everything else Google offers online, those data centers draw a large part of Google’s worldwide energy use of 260 million watts. That’s continuously, day after day, although it is subject to some fluctuation based on user load. According to the New York Times, that’s about quarter of what a nuclear power plant produces, or enough electricity to power 200,000 houses.

Google argues that, despite the huge number, the company makes the world greener in the long run. It’s an interesting argument: rather than driving to the library, people can use Google search. Rather than getting lost, and wasting more gas, users map their routes on Google Maps. Also, Google’s large size allow for more efficient data center arrangements, as evidenced by government agencies whose email costs were cut in half after outsourcing data management to Google.

According to Google, the average energy consumption of one of its typical users is about 180 watt-hours a month. That’s like running an average 60-watt indoor lightbulb for just three hours. Multiply that trickle of energy by the billions of searches and downloads conducted at Google daily and you necessarily end up with a whopping number.

On top of Google’s efficiency claims, the company says it’s also getting greener. The company’s numbers state that 25 percent of its energy use came from clean power sources in 2010. That’s been bumped up to 30 percent in 2011, and Google plans to get that up to 35 percent by 2012 with a combination of direct investment in clean power production and sourcing clean power from utilities. The company’s numbers may be on the conservative side; according to GigaOm, Greenpeace earlier this year estimated Google’s clean power use at 36.4 percent.

For the other 65 percent or so of Google’s energy use that comes from fossil fuels, the company says it buys “high-quality” carbon offsets that it claims have kept it carbon neutral since 2007. Those basically translate into investments for more clean power and other green projects. In any case, Google’s finally owning up to following the green trend that’s been swirling through the tech world for years now. While its numbers are subject to verification, with a company this large, cleaner and more efficient is always a good thing.

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