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Google’s Energy Usage, Compared to Arlington

by ARLnow.com September 12, 2011 at 10:56 am 3,877 45 Comments

Last week Google, for the first time, revealed how much electricity it consumes around the world.

It turns out that Google’s massive data centers and its corporate offices consume a mind-boggling amount of electricity: 2.26 billion kilowatt hours in 2010. The company’s power consumption — 260 million watts at any given moment — is about a quarter of the output of a nuclear power plant, according to the New York Times.

To further put that in perspective, Arlington as a whole (homes, businesses and governmental entities) consumed 2.76 billion kilowatt hours in 2007, according to a recent county report — a half billion kilowatts more than Google. The 210,000 people who live in Arlington consume far less electricity at home, however. Arlington households (single-family homes, condos and apartment buildings) consume about 0.73 billion kilowatt hours per year — less than a third of Google’s consumption.

  • BreadBarber

    Ok, I know this is rude, but what is the point of this article?

    • drax

      Don’t worry about it. Just go back to your TMZ.com and People magazine.

      • ssarlgwm

        + 1!

    • Bender

      What’s the point? What’s the point??

      Could the point be that the people at Google, which are big financial donors to Democrat candidates and liberal causes, are hypocrites? Ha, ha. Of course not, that’s not the point.

      Could the point be that corporate greed is destroying the planet? Maybe, that might be the point.

      Could the point be that because one single county uses more energy than does a world-wide company, with billions of users all around the world, that that county which prides itself on being “green” is hypocritical? No, that’s not the point.

      Could the point be that, due to so much power consumption around the ENTIRE WORLD, Google should be shut down or at least made to run on windmills? That too might be the point.

      Could the point be that Google uses so much power around the entire world because the entire world uses Google, such that people, like those that read ARLnow and might have even come to this site via Google, need to stop using Google? That could be the point.

      Could the point be that mankind is using too many resources and destroying the planet and that we ought to not only go back to the 19th century with streetcars, but should do like al Qaeda wants us to do and go back to the 8th century? Yes, that is likely the point too.

      • Wow…… sounds like somebody has gone on a bender. Oh, wait….

      • R. Griffon

        Not sure if serious.

        What’s this supposed hypocrisy you speak of? I guess you think Google should run their entire multi-billion dollar enterprise off of a single netbook somewhere, powered by a wind turbine or something? How much electricity can it take to serve up a few ones and zeros, after all?

        So exactly how much electricity SHOULD Google use then, in your enlightened opinion? I’d love to know.

        And for that matter, how much should Arlington use? My guess is you have no idea – you probably just like to complain even if the numbers have no real relevance for you at all.

        I’m also not sure where you got this notion that al Qaeda wants us to return to the 8th century as they have no such goals, but if you want to see who wants us to be stuck in the past, just look at the current energy giants. They’d have us using internal combustion engines and steam power (where you get most of your power) forever more (or at least until the oil and coal runs out). These aren’t exactly leading edge, and haven’t been for a couple hundred years.

        Companies like Google, on the other hand, are leading the way to the future of energy. All of Arlington could learn a lot from them.

      • Chef

        Nice ones.

    • SomeGuy

      I wouldn’t have made the comment BreadBarber made, but since he made it, I’ll agree in the following sense: I don’t see how this is Arlington news. To say this is “Arlington news” is like saying an article about Warren Buffett represents “McDonald’s news” because the author evaluated the Oracle of Omaha’s fortune in Big Macs.

      So I think it’s a fair question to ask the point the author is trying to make in the context of his local news blog.

  • Dr. Emmett Brown

    I need a nuclear reaction to generate the 1.21 gigawatts of electricity I need.

    • wat

      it’s pronounced, jiggawatts

    • R. Griffon


  • Ballstonian

    Are you willing to sacrifice Google or Arlington? And agree…who cares??

    Build me a super efficient photovoltaic cell first that is mass producible and cheap, and then i’ll say no to nuclear.

  • Garden City

    Sounds to me like Google needs to build a nuclear power plant.

  • Rosslynite

    Are you including the Donalson Run numbers in your total?

    • Rosslynite


      • Richard Cranium

        I thought DR ran exclusively on hydropower.

        • Chef

          DR and Country Club Hills run on deionized, democratized gas.

  • alebt

    I give Google credit for putting the information out there. It is an astonishing statistic. One that every smart phone user and uber-connected internet user (like me) should ponder as we grapple with energy policy changes. Perhaps a “google” tax will replace the gas tax in upcoming debates……

    • biabiaaa

      Why would we pay a google tax? Google pays it’s own electric bill.

      • alebt

        Well, I guess one answer is that the butcher, the baker and the candlestick-maker also pay their electric bill if they want to stay in business, but the end consumer is still taxed for the meat and bread and the candles. “Use” taxes are becoming more and more common. Over the last 10 years think about things like dry-cleaning, hair cuts etc that were not taxed that now are.

        • drax

          Those aren’t use taxes, they are sales taxes. A use tax is a fee for a direct government service, like a toll. And yes, those are increasing too.

          • alebt

            My mistake. Revel in it. The point of exploring a tax on a good or service still stands.

          • drax

            Yes, the point still stands.

        • chipotle_addict

          Searching on google.com is free. Add a 9% tax. 9% of zero is… zero.

          As far as google’s actual income sources, such as advertising, isn’t that already taxed?

          • drax

            No, I don’t think anyone taxes ads.

          • R. Griffon

            Of course they do. Google is taxed on their income (you pay for sponsored links, and to place ads in AdSense), and affiliates who make advertising dollars with AdSense are taxed on that revenue as well.

            It’s just that you don’t pay (or pay tax) to consume them. But ads are taxed in very real ways.

    • Malthus

      Perhaps the bright people at Google should figure out a way to harness the tapping of fingers on keyboards as people update their facebook status (and blogs like this?)

      All this points out is that those who believe technology will solve our energy dilema (for those that believe we have an energy dilema) forget that technology is an energy user, not an energy source.

    • Mike Oksmal

      I wanted to reply to his earlier, but my smartphone battery was getting low and I had to charge it.

      I would hazard a guess that a large portion of their electrical costs, if not a majority, are for cooling of their data centers. That in turn rejects heat back into the atmosphere. Their footprint is even bigger than you would first think from reading the numbers.

  • R. Griffon

    ARLnow: Mercurynews.com link is dead for me. Anyone else?

    And for everyone else, the interesting thing about this (that doesn’t seem to be mentioned anywhere else), is that Google, despite it’s tremendous energy demands to provide the services that it does, is CARBON NEUTRAL. Has been for about 4 years.

    We could learn a lot from them.

    Ref: http://googleblog.blogspot.com/2011/09/how-our-cloud-does-more-with-less.html

    • It still works fine for me. I’ll remove the extra syntax at the end, maybe that will help.

      • R. Griffon

        That did it. Aces.

    • othersideoftheriver

      “The Internet giant is giving more than a third of the initial funds required to set up offshore wind turbines and a new transmission grid stretching 350 miles from New Jersey to Virginia.”


  • Rose Coates

    And we pay dearly for it!!

  • Ballston Resident

    Interesting article.

    Google used 2.26 billion kilowatt hours in 2010. Arlington used 2.76 billion kilowatt hours in 2007.

    There is a 3-ear difference between the Google and Arlington study. Is there a more recent study that shows how much electricity Arlington used in 2010? Suspect it is much higher than 2.76 billion kilowatts of 2007 due to the massive construction projects on the Orange Line during the last 3 years and the upgrade of the power grids in Arlington (i.e., the new power station by St. Charles Church in Arlington and others). Article may be a bid off because it compares results that vary by 3 years and a lot of increases for electrical power in Arlington occurred during this period. Would have liked to see more current (perhaps 2010) energy consumption figures for Arlington. Think it would have gave a more accurate comparison.

    Nevertheless, this is a very good topic that most of us were not aware of. Thanks for bringing it up, it is appreciated. Keep up the good work.

    • bred

      Just a clarfication – It’s a sub-station near St. Charles Church. Plus, it’s not new just rebuilt. I have lived in Arlington for 27 years and the sub-station has always been there. I did hear somewhere that some sort of screening to make the site more attractive.

      • Clarendude

        Yes, it’s called the Ballston Substation by Virginia Power. There will be a wooden fence built around it any day now.

        • MC

          Yes, I recall Dominion Power promising a aesthetically pleasing covering around this substation over a year ago, but it still looks like Dominion is hosting a giant billboard for Siemens. Seriously the barbed wire here must be one of the ugliest things in Clarendon – why no action yet by Dominion?

  • Apples and oranges.

    • Ballston Resident

      Overgrown Bush,

      You may have a very valid apples and oranges point. Three years is a big period. During the last 3 years in Arlington many additional electricity using services were introduced (FIOS, substation upgrades, and numerous others). However, I still liked the article but would have liked to see more current electricity usage figures from Arlington. However, not sure Arlington has these figures available yet to the public and the reporter may have used the most current figures that were available (and these were probably 3 years old).

  • cc911va

    “1.21 Gigawatts?”

  • Hokie

    The important piece of information that seems to be ignored by some is that this is Google’s usage around the world. I know it has huge data centers all over the place, so it isn’t as if all the energy is being used at its HQ.

    that said- it’s still quite amazing!

  • Mark Haynes

    Clearly the challenge has been issued. Let’s all turn on all of our lights and clothes dryers, open our refrigerators and kick some Google tail!

    Concerned Citizen.

  • Carol_R


    Google also uses Bloom boxes to generate their electricity.

  • R. Griffon

    Although it’s super-cool, the Bloom technology is still in it’s infancy. I’d be surprised if Amazon is much past the trial phase with those, and doubt it makes a dent on their total consumption. In fact, I doubt that all the boxes made by Bloom to date would make a dent in that consumption.

    But it is cool tech. I hope it works out, and can’t wait until they start selling residential units! đŸ™‚

    • R. Griffon

      Sorry, that was supposed to be a response to Carol_R above (not a new thread). But I found some solid numbers. The Bloom boxes at Google have generated ~3.8 million kWh over the last 18 months, so assume ~2.5M kWh/yr, or a bit over .1% (1/1,000th) of Google’s total consumption.


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