A report in The Times of London on Sunday generated a firestorm of controversy when a Harvard physicist was identified as saying a typical Google Web search on a desktop computer generates about 7 grams of carbon dioxide, making two searches comparable to bringing a tea kettle to boil.
"A Google search has a definite environmental impact," Alex Wissner-Gross was quoted as telling the newspaper.
Problem is, Wissner-Gross tells TechNewsWorld, his study never singles out or even mentions Google.
"For some reason, in their story on the study, The Times had an ax to grind with Google," Wissner-Gross said. "Our work has nothing to do with Google. Our focus was exclusively on the Web overall, and we found that it takes on average about 20 milligrams of CO2 per second to visit a Web site."
So where did The Times get the kettle stat?
"I have no idea where they got those statistics," said Wissner-Gross, who acknowledged and defended making the statements about Google. "Everything online has a definite environmental impact. I think everybody can agree on that, including Google."
Google, which the newspaper described as "secretive about its energy consumption and carbon footprint," was swift to respond to the reported statistics in a blog late Sunday:
We thought it would be helpful to explain why this number is *many* times too high. Google is fast--a typical search returns results in less than 0.2 seconds. Queries vary in degree of difficulty, but for the average query, the servers it touches each work on it for just a few thousandths of a second. Together with other work performed before your search even starts (such as building the search index) this amounts to 0.0003 kWh of energy per search, or 1 kJ. For comparison, the average adult needs about 8000 kJ a day of energy from food, so a Google search uses just about the same amount of energy that your body burns in ten seconds.
As my report noted Sunday, Google has become a de facto leader in the effort to reduce energy consumption not only in IT but in the general population.
Google is a board member of a new coalition called the Climate Savers Computing Initiative, which aims to reduce computing power-consumption by half by 2010. And the search giant's Google.org philanthropy has made policy recommendations on how the U.S. could wean itself from coal and oil for electricity generation and nearly halve its gasoline consumption by 2030.
However, while Wissner-Gross criticized The Times for finding a "really easy way to sell papers," the physicist is riding a tsunami of press inquiries to highlight CO2stats.com, a site he manages to help educate people about energy efficiencies on the Internet.