Posted by: qmaxim | October 27, 2011

Make my search little slower!

Google  made two important announcements recently.  First was the   enhancement  to the Google’s  search system called Google instant – Google shows   the results  as the user types query into the search box.  For this option to be available  your internet connection should be sufficiently fast and in some areas you should be signed-in. The most obvious change is that you get to the right content much faster than before  as Google no longer  waits till  typing is  finished  or even  “search” button is pressed.  Google estimates that 2-5 seconds can be saved per search.


Second announcement    related to electricity consumed and hence sustainability.  According to the announcement Google draws continuously almost 260 million Watts of electricity – equivalent to quarter of  the  output of  a  Nuclear power generation  plant. This number  includes energy used for running data centre operations, its campuses and office parks.   Over a billion searches  are conducted daily, each search consuming estimated 0.3 watt-hours of electricity. For an average user this  works to a power consumption of  180 watt-hour per month  or running a 60 watt bulb for  3 hours per month.  This consumption is equivalent to total Carbon emissions of 1.5 million metric tons per year  with most of that attributable to Carbon fuels that provide electricity for the data centres. Google  is also trying to use  green energy such as wind and solar as much as possible. Until now, this statistics was kept a closely guarded secret.  It  is speculated that this data was  kept under wraps for this  long to avoid embarrassment  of not appearing green and also due to the fear that this information would  useful to the competitors. This announcement was appreciated by  green critics for transparency  and efforts in mitigating environmental impact.

Every  time a person runs a Google search, watches a YouTube video or sends a message through Gmail some amount of energy is consumed. In other words, every search, downloading a YouTube video has energy   and sustainability implications – and it is not free. 


Now coming to purpose of this blog post.  I  have  spent significant part of my working  life in manufacturing industries which  are energy intensive and  green house gas ( GHG) emission  negative. Over the years due to significant efforts of  these industries    emissions per unit of activity has come down significantly. In general people have an  impression that the new high tech electronic sectors are non-polluting, environment friendly and thus “green” industries.  Are they indeed green industries ? Soon I realised that  these industries  are not that green after all. 

Consider  some facts which pertain only to  India where use of electronic gadgets and e-commerce and m-commerce  is just now taking off.  It is likely that 10.5 million PCs  will be  sold in India in 2011. Sale of  flat screen TV sets  is 5th largest in the world.  Every month 20 million mobile connections are added to 600 million ( 2nd largest in the world)  existing connections. To maintain such a large network,  thousands  of mobile towers are added every month. Nokia alone manufactures  100 million mobile phones yearly in India at their factory in Chennai.  Number of  internet connections in India is already the 3rd largest in the world, though electronic commerce has not yet reached the level of  even emerging economies like China. Most of the govt. services to meet the needs of  India’s 1.2 billion population  will be online in the next few years.  To support all these activities  large  data centre and extensive networks  are being created. As the industry reaches its true potential in the next few years amount of electricity required,  metals and plastics consumed will reach enormous levels.  To build PCs and other consumer electronic items  enormous amount of  metals and plastics  would be  required.  Also,  PC ‘s (other gadgets) innards are made of  many metals & plastics some of them are carcinogenic and   many are not recyclable. Some of the technologies even green ones consume rare earth metals. Recycling of discarded items will also become significant issue coming years. Thus all these activities have increasing impact on energy consumption , GHG emissions , & recycling  thus ultimately are significant sustainability issues.  Of course, as of now environmental impact of the electronics industries may not match that of smoke stack industries but soon these will begin to make their mark.

Now about the title  of this blog – make my search little slower. Why I am saying this?

Of course, one must appreciate Google’s initiative in making already a good search service even better. Every time user runs a search,  information   is  sent from user’s device through lengthy communication path (probably through under sea cables)  to several of the Google servers located in many locations around the world. The answer returned  from them is collated and follows similar path  and is displayed on user’s screen.  Google’s Instant  search service does this several times for each search instead of  only once as in the  earlier service. Search is the most energy intensive of all the Google’s services (this is a  surprise  – not data intensive YouTube as one would expect)  thus has the maximum impact on environment.  Though speed of search improves, world is probably worse off as far as the sustainability is concerned due to increased energy consumption.

So, I am saying make my search little slower!





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