Google's mind-boggling use of electricity

Search giant reveals energy usage of its data centers (hint: it's a lot)

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If the average user of Google ever even considers how much energy is used during a search or watching a video on YouTube, their thoughts probably don't go much further than their own electricity bills.

Tech professionals, on the other hand, have some understanding that information is stored in massive data centers that require enormous levels of power consumption and cooling (which also requires more power consumption).

But even tech pros probably have a hard time getting their heads around the numbers Google revealed for the first time Thursday about its data center power usage.

Consider:

* Google says its ongoing electricity usage could power 200,000 homes.

* The company's data centers around the world (the newest one recently went live in Finland) "draw almost 260 million watts — about a quarter of the output of a nuclear power plant," the New York Times points out.

* Total carbon emissions last year fell just short of 1.5 million metric tons, mostly as a result of Google's data center power consumption.

Despite all this, Google says its data centers are actually helping the environment in that they use only 50% of the energy used by most other data centers.

That's probably true since many data centers even now are inefficiently designed and run, causing avoidable carbon emissions and costing data center operators a lot of money in wasted energy. And when you're all about data (and, thus, data centers) as Google is, that kind of waste undermines your entire business.

Google also said it is increasing its use of renewable energy by "buying electricity directly from wind farms near our data centers." Twenty-five percent of Google's power use last year was from renewable electricity, the company said, and its goal for 2012 is to bump that up to 35%.

If you're interested in green IT, or you're a data center geek, or if you just want to check out how Google handles its energy needs, the company has created a section of its Google Green site called "The Big Picture" that offers some fascinating statistics and interesting graphics.

Just turn out the lights when you leave.

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