Surprise, Surprise: Google Also a Big Fan of Cheap Electricity

google campus

Image courtesy of Adrian Libotean via flickr

Google's recent decision to venture into renewable energy - while met with some skepticism by the press and its shareholders - was largely embraced by environmentalist groups and eco-oriented publications (including this one). Indeed, the move to support the creation of a gigawatt of renewable energy seemed to reinforce Google's image as that of a benevolent, forward-thinking giant - lending credence to its "Don't be evil" mantra. But is there more than meets the eye to the recent announcement?

Ginger Strand, an author and contributor to Harper's Magazine, certainly seems to think so. In a fascinating exposé, Strand confirms some longstanding doubts about Google's devotion to clean energy and the operation of its energy-intensive server farms.

google data center

Image courtesy of Harper's

The blueprints (seen above) of its data center at The Dalles, Oregon, demonstrate, in Strand's mind, that the "Web" is as much an "energy glutton" as "heavy industry" - a realization that doesn't sit well with Google's new dedication to clean energy:

"Velcroed together, stacked in racks, and lined up in back-to-back rows, the servers require a half-watt in cooling for every watt they use in processing, and Google leads the field in squeezing more servers into less space. Based on a projected industry standard of 500 watts per square foot in 2011, the Dalles plant can be expected to demand about 103 megawatts of electricity—enough to power 82,000 homes, or a city
the size of Tacoma, Washington."

That's not to say, of course, that Google is alone in pursuing the cheapest source of electricity for its ever-growing data centers: Its rivals, including Microsoft and Yahoo (who've now contracted for a combined 90 MW), have been quick to follow its lead, building new centers on the Columbia River at an accelerating pace. In a recent report (which excluded Google), the EPA estimated that, by 2011, data center power use in the U.S. would double.

Some more disquieting facts: According to Strand, Google and its rivals have started heading abroad to seek ever cheaper (and, more likely than not, dirtier) sources of energy; Google is currently negotiating for a site in Lithuania that would allow it to tap into a power grid that is a measly 0.5% hydroelectric - and close to 78% nuclear.

While we certainly commend Google and its rivals' efforts to support research into clean, renewable energy sources, we feel that it's also only fair that they be more transparent about their operations' "dirty" side (a wishful thought). But don't just take our word for it: go read the whole piece here.

Via ::Harper's: Keyword: Evil (magazine)

See also: ::How Green is Google?, ::How's The Google Plug-In Hybrid Fleet Doing?