First, the predictably bad: President Obama did not mention clean energy (or any kind of energy) in his speech to Congress last night. Unlike nearly every one of his speeches on the economy since he took office, he did not mention green jobs or anything similar. Perhaps this was a tactical retreat, to forestall criticism tied to the Solyndra debacle this week. The FBI's raid Thursday of Solyndra, the bankrupt Fremont, Calif., solar producer, which had received federal loan guarantees of $535 million, has made clean energy a radioactive subject for the time being, at least in some Democratic political circles.
True, the plan Obama announced included a provision to modernize 35,000 public schools, which could be used as an opportunity for increased energy efficiency in leaky old buildings. But that choice is a highly individual one, to be made by the nation's more than 15,000 school districts.
The good news of the day (and the week) was Google's first-ever announcement of its energy consumption statistics. The data, released today, showed that the company consumed about 2.26 billion kilowatt hours of electricity in 2010, equivalent to the energy used in 200,000 homes. One-quarter of this electricity came from renewable energy sources. The company also said its CO2 emissions were 1.46 million metric tons, largely offset by carbon offsets purchased by the company.
For anything related to data center energy efficiency, I listen to Jonathan Koomey, a professor at Stanford University and consultant on energy efficiency. Here's an excerpt of his take on Google's announcement:
This is a big deal because it will give much of the rest of the industry efficiency targets to which they can aspire. Most of the other cloud computing companies have figured out clever tricks to improve their efficiency, but it’s the “in-house” data centers (the ones owned and operated by companies whose primary business is not computing) who have the most to learn from these announcements (and from the announcement of the Open Compute Project by Facebook awhile back).
Google’s announcement is also important because it puts real data on how much electricity is actually used for a search or the download of a Youtube video. Some of you may recall the little dustup about whether a Google search uses as much as boiling a pot of tea (it doesn’t, as Evan Mills and I documented here). But the biggest story is not about direct electricity use, it’s about the efficiency improvements in other energy uses enabled by the electricity used by data centers and other information technology equipment. As I describe in my recent report, the world’s data centers use roughly 1.3% of global electricity use, but they help us use the other 98.7% of that electricity as well as most of the rest of the other energy use a whole lot more efficiently.
Google’s announcements also confirm the points I made in my post on why cloud computing is more efficient, and the large savings from cloud computing estimated by WSP Environment and Energy when analyzing salesforce.com’s operations. Cloud computing will continue to pressure “in-house” data center operations because costs in the cloud are so much lower, a result driven significantly by much greater energy efficiency and equipment utilization.