Google Inc. spends quite a lot of time burnishing its self-created image as a “green” company – largely on the basis of the solar array at its corporate headquarters. It is also trying to build support for the administration’s cap-and-trade “energy” bill by pretending that solar energy can substitute for hydrocarbon, nuclear and hydroelectric energy.
Google states that its multimillion-dollar solar array has generated sufficient electricity over the past two years to run 5,158 coffee makers for one hour each day. Google does not mention, however, that this solar array supplies insufficient electricity to run Google’s search engine computers for even one minute per day and that the coffee makers, if supplied with solar panels to operate them, would cost approximately $1,500 each.
Google claims that its Mountain View, Calif., headquarters buildings are paved with 1.6 megawatts (Mw) of solar panels. This installation was completed in June 2007, about the same time as the Nellis Air Force Base 14 Mw, $100 million solar panel installation that “energy expert” Obama – who is now attempting to seize control of the energy industries of the United States – visited recently and advertised as an example of his administration’s plans for America.
As of June 21, 2009, Google reports that it has generated 4,592,364 kilowatt (Kw) hours of electricity with this installation, or about 2.29 gigawatt (Gw) hours per year. Nellis reports 30.1 Gw hours per year. So, Nellis is producing 25 percent of its advertised quantity and Google is producing 16 percent. The apparent 75 percent and 84 percent losses arise because the sun does not shine 24 hours per day and because these installations are routinely overrated. In fact, the Google installation actually generates, on average, only 0.26 megawatts – not 1.6 megawatts (1 Gw = 1,000 Mw = 1,000,000 Kw).
Google brags that the average 24-hour output of its solar array is sufficient to operate 5,158 coffee makers for one hour – based on its daily reports. It does not, however, reveal the cost of this solar equipment. If we assume that the installations at Google and Nellis are similarly cost effective – they are both 2007 technology and our assumption allows for technical differences in the installations (Nellis has solar-tracking arrays), then Google’s installation cost an estimated $7.5 million. With current electricity and maintenance costs, this solar installation will not even pay for itself in more than 40 years, so it produces nothing of net value.
Without considering depreciation, maintenance such as cleaning the panels, and employees to oversee the equipment, this $7.5 million works out to $1,454 per coffee maker. So, if the coffee maker is priced at $46 and delivered with a share in the Google solar array sufficient to operate it for an average of one hour each day, the price is $1,500 per coffee maker.
To be sure, Google is a private company. If its directors want to provide $1,500 coffee makers to their staff, why complain? After all, this is not our money – or is it? Google does not reveal the source of the funds that built its solar array, but virtually all such installations in the United States are being built with federal and state tax funds. These funds come in the form of tax credits, tax deductions, grants from publicly funded organizations, and other tax-supported subsidies. So, these $1,500 coffee makers were probably built at taxpayer expense.
Google has not purchased – or accepted at taxpayer expense – a practical energy-producing solar energy system. It has, instead, purchased $7,500,000 in advertising. It is painting itself as a “green” company – but just how green is it?
Google is in the Internet search engine business. Its primary equipment consists of vast arrays of computers that use so much energy that its new data center, currently being built in Oregon, is sited at The Dalles, Ore., near Columbia River hydroelectric power – not a solar array.
As with the cost of its solar advertising project, Google also keeps secret the power usage of its computers. The power consumption of the Oregon installation has been estimated at 100 Mw, 24 hours per day, 365 days per year. It is also estimated that Google has 19 such centers in the United States and 17 built or under development in other countries. The Dalles installation is one of the largest. If we assume that The Dalles center is about twice the average size, Google is using an estimated 1,000 Mw in the U.S. – or approximately the output of one Palo Verde nuclear reactor. Even if Google’s actual usage is as little as half this much, our analysis is still applicable.
If Google generated 1,000 Mw of power with solar panels like those it touts at its corporate headquarters, the construction cost would be approximately $30 billion. Moreover, Google’s customers would be unhappy if their Internet search services were only available during midday and in good weather, so a hydrocarbon or nuclear-powered electricity generating station would need to be standing by to provide power most of the time.
If built with the more efficient Nellis solar tracking equipment, this 1,000 Mw solar installation would cover 40,000 acres, or 63 square miles. Since Google’s earnings are about $4 billion per year, the construction of this system would require the entire earnings of the company for eight years – probably an expenditure that management would prefer not to make.
Alternatively, Google could obtain the $30 billion from American taxpayers via its friends in Washington (Google is very Obama friendly). This would, however, subject Google executives to federal wage controls.
Google’s directors have definitely chosen the best option for their computers. They are powering their energy-intensive company with hydrocarbon, nuclear and hydroelectric power. They are at least restricting their “green” energy to coffee makers and other minor uses at their corporate offices. The energy they are using in their computer installations is helping to produce a very useful product, like many other useful things Americans can do with energy. Neither Google nor the fortunes its founders have earned would exist without the great energy industries that were created by American free enterprise – industries now demonized by “green” Obama administration anti-technologists.
The Google advertising department is, however, involved in blatant hypocrisy. Instead of advertising that the average 24-hour output of their solar array will operate 5,158 coffee makers for one hour, why don’t they tell us how long that 24-hour solar output will operate Google itself? – by our calculation from these numbers: 23 seconds per day.
Allowing for uncertainties resulting from Google’s secrecy, I estimate that the entire 24-hour output of the Google solar array will run Google for between 10 seconds and 1 minute per day. (When asked, Google refused to provide information that would allow a precise estimate.)
Americans currently import 30 percent of their energy – a luxury they can no longer afford. This 30 percent is not made in America because the gradual increase of government taxation, regulation and sponsorship of litigation against American energy industries over the past 40 years has created a business environment in the United States that is very unfavorable for the production of energy. So, even though the United States is awash in plentiful nuclear resources and coal, oil, natural gas and other hydrocarbon resources, most new energy production is instead sited abroad.
Now, Congress and the Obama administration are pushing a new “energy bill” including so-called “cap-and-trade” that will sharply increase taxation and regulation of the energy industries. To sell this greatly increased suppression of free enterprise, Washington politicians are advertising boutique energy technologies like solar and wind, without mentioning that these methods produce very small amounts of energy at very high costs. These costs are so high that they not only require enormous taxpayer subsidies, but also cannot be financed in sufficient quantity to avoid energy shortages, high energy prices and, ultimately, rationing and diminished prosperity.
Google is supporting this political charade. It is using solar energy to supply minor office needs and to enhance its public image, while simultaneously using large amounts of energy generated by nuclear, hydrocarbon and hydroelectric methods to run its business. It apparently thinks that Americans can be fooled into using its products and supporting the political agenda of its friends through “green” advertising.
This hypocrisy should not be rewarded, and Google should not participate in it.
Dr. Arthur Robinson is president and research professor of the Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine.