Sunday, January 25, 2009

data emissions emissions data

The investment bank Morgan Stanley is planning to build a massive 'data centre' (big building full of computer servers) in the north of Scotland, powering it by tidal energy.

At 150 megawatts, it dwarfs all other tidal-turbine power on earth. It's less than a year since the first megawatt-scale tidal turbine went onstream in Strangford Lough, Northern Ireland.

The Morgan Stanley turbines won't be connected to the grid, just have a private cable. This means it'll be up and running quicker, but not really part of national plans to reduce dependency on fossil fuels.

The Guardian piece about it contains a terrifying number

A spokesman at the Department for Energy and Climate Change said: "Data centres are significant users of energy, they are responsible for 3% of electricity use in the UK and this is expected to double by 2020."

As we're sat here at our computers, what emissions are we generating? A recent news report tells us Google is especially carbon intensive.

A typical search through the online giant's website is thought to generate about 7g of carbon dioxide. Boiling a kettle produces about 15g...

According to Gartner, an American research firm, IT now causes about two per cent of global CO2 emissions and its carbon footprint exceeded that of the world's aviation industry for the first time in 2007.



Thanks to Mish (see Comments below), we've got hard evidence to debunk that 7g figure.

I was careful to say above that the figure is 'a recent report telling us', and to link to it which in turn links to Google's refutation.

I realised it was citing one figure (albeit from a Harvard study, which I thought was probably credible), but then they cited

A separate analysis by John Buckley, of, a British environmental website, put the CO2 emissions of a Google search at between 1g and 10g

which added weight to it.

However that whole report in the Telegraph appears to have just copied what the Sunday Times had said. And that, in turn, appears to be a load of made-up bollocks, as TechNewsWorld report

The study's author, Harvard University physicist Alex Wissner-Gross, says he never mentions Google in the study. "For some reason, in their story on the study, the Times had an ax to grind with Google," Wissner-Gross told TechNewsWorld.

"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."

And the example involving tea kettles? "They did that. I have no idea where they got those statistics," Wissner-Gross said.

The Sunday Times has had to hang its tail between its legs and be unequivocal. Now they've put a bit at the top of the story.

We are happy to make clear that this does not refer to a one-hit Google search taking less than a second, which Google says produces about 0.2g of CO2, a figure we accept.

So why did the Sunday Times do this? Back to Alex Wiesner-Gross.

The short answer is, it's a really easy way to sell papers. Google is a very successful company and it's a very easy way to get readership by making grandiose claims about them.


Unknown said...

I fully agree that data centres are a huge user of energy, but the google figure is just the latest in a long line of made up sunday times nonsense. Google says that the figure is 0.2g per search. The Sunday Times has admitted that it is wrong. And a little more info.

But keep up the good work :)

punkscience said...

That's a terribly foreboding figure. Imagine what Google's cloud will do to that figure too. Maybe they should relocate their server centres to Stranford Lough too. Or anywhere with oodles of renewables. I hear Iceland is begging for investment . . .

merrick said...

Mish, thanks a lot for the information. That'll teach me to trust the Telegraph Earth section(damn, i love it, but hey).

I've amended the post to reflect what you pointed me towards.

This is what I love about online publishing, incorrect stories can be uncovered and changed so easily.