The Race to Be the Greenest Tech Company

Google's not the only Internet company trying to look green

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Google is way green. The company is so efficient that it's not just not that bad for the environment it's actually good for the earth. At least that's what the company claims in a recent blog post outlining its energy consumption. "And, because we’ve been a carbon-neutral company since 2007, even that small amount of energy is offset completely, so the carbon footprint of your life on Google is zero." Google took criticism for their energy hungry data centers in 2009, tarnishing the company's 'can-do-no-evil' charm. Since then, it has tried really hard to pull itself back into the green. And Google's not the only Internet companies that feeds off electricity--they all do it. Using the Internet comes with an environmental price tag, after the world figured that out, big tech companies aspired to look greener than the next.  Thus began the race to become the greenest tech company.

Google only just caught up to competitors in terms of transparency. Before Google had claimed efficiency, but without numbers it was hard to believe explains The New York Times's James Glanz. "For years, Google maintained a wall of silence worthy of a government security agency on how much electricity the company used--a silence that experts speculated was used to cloak how quickly it was outstripping the competition in the scale and efficiency of its data centers." Earlier this year Facebook launched its Open Commute program, revealing bot its energy saving methods and numbers explains GigaOm's Katie Fehrenbacher. Google's numbers took a bit longer.

Before we knew the specifics, Google tried to convince us with its efficient practices. Its data center might need a lot of electricity, but Google's are efficient. To keep costs down Google uses an innovative sea-power cooling system, instead of air conditioning in at least one plant, discovered Scuttlefish.

Instead of using expensive air conditioning to keep the computers from melting down, Google decided to use existing tunnels, of granite and connected to the nearby gulf, and the sea water inside to cool the entire data center’s machinery. The water is even stored and mixed with inlet water so that when it is returned to the sea it is closer in temperature to the ambient environment, as to avoid causing any heat-related environmental issues.

But it's not the only company with fancy enviro-data hubs. Likewise, Yahoo reduces cooling costs with its "chicken coop" data center, explains GigaOm's Katie Fehrenbacher. "While cooling can traditionally suck up a good half of the energy consumption of a data center, Yahoo’s Coop design attributes just 1 percent of its annual energy consumption to cooling." And of course Facebook's on it, too. "For its facility in Prineville, Ore., Facebook designed the structure to maintain evaporative cooling, which keeps the data center cool by spraying water into incoming air. Facebook says it has designed its servers to be able to work in that hotter and more humid environment." And beyond cooling "Facebook touts more efficient use of the electricity coming into the facility, too, and they are using power at a higher voltage throughout the data center (277v compared with 208v)," continues Fehrenbacher.

And of course these companies are all about renewables. And Google's aiming high. "Because of special arrangements the company has made to buy electricity from wind farms, Google says that 25 percent of its energy was supplied by renewable fuels in 2010, and estimates that figure will reach 30 percent in 2011," reports Glans. But, maybe Yahoo has them beat, continues Fehrenbacher. "The Lockport facility will be powered by 100 percent carbon-free hydropower (basically, power from dams)." Facebook loses in this category, even it's "green plant" generates over half of its power from coal.

Alas not all Tech companies have joined the race. Beloved Apple uses dirty coal centers, reports The Guardian's Felicity Carus. "The company's investment in a new North Carolina facility will triple its electricity consumption, equivalent to the electricity demand of 80,000 average US homes. The facility's power will be supplied by Duke Energy, with a mix of 62% coal and 32% nuclear." But maybe the recent Google announcement will light a (clean) fire under Apple's ass. At least that's what Dennis Symanski, a senior data center project manager at the Electric Power Research Institute, thinks. "The announcement is likely to spur further competition in an industry where every company is already striving to appear "greener" than the next." he said, reports Wyatt. "They’re all clamoring to get on the podium to claim that they have the most efficient data center."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.