Google and Green Energy

Google’s Green Energy Czar Bill Weihl came to the Stata Center Thursday to speak on Green IT as part of CSAIL’s Dertouzos Lecturer Series. Weihl, a former professor of Computer Science at MIT, cut to the heart of the green debate, refuting claims that the Internet makes up a substantial amount of America’s overall energy usage and explaining the importance of using technology, in particular computer science, to make the rest of the country’s economy more energy efficient.

According to Weihl, information and communications technologies (ICT) currently account for about two percent of global energy use; however, ICT is the fastest growing segment. Not only should companies and institutions like Google and MIT look to “green” their ICT operations, argued Weihl, but also they should also focus their efforts on reducing the energy consumption of the other 98 percent.

One of Google’s primary approaches to reducing its energy consumption has been making its datacenters more efficient through reducing cooling costs by 85 percent when compared with a typical datacenter. The Internet search giant has even managed to make one of its datacenters in Belgium “chiller-less,” thanks to the country’s naturally cool climate, which allows Google to keep its datacenters at the required temperature by relying solely on evaporative cooling towers.

While Goggle has come a long way in reducing its energy consumption, there is still a ways to go, explained Weihl.

“Now is the time for computer science to shine,” he said. “Hardware needs to be more efficient and software has a big role in that.”

Weihl stressed the importance of reducing the idle time for handheld devices like iPhones and entertainment accessories like DVRs, which are continuously running but only in use a small fraction of the time. Software should be designed to be energy proportional, said Weihl, meaning that the power a device consumes should be equivalent to the amount of useful work it completes. Google was able to avoid energy consumption increases on its servers when it debuted its most recent function, Google Instant, which runs on average five to 10 searches per character. Clever engineering, according to Weihl, reduced the application’s overhead dramatically.
Abby Abazorius, CSAIL