My Google Searches Might Heat Your Home

Sorry, but this is not about Search Term Poetry!

Rather the contrary: Imagine your search terms could be utilized for something down-to-earth, for something useful.

Google states:

Energy consumption of Google internet searches
Energy consumption of Google internet searches (Google, Feb. 18, 2013)

See more comparisons for Google services here! (Though I am disappointed they did not convert to bath tubs!)

If Google’s computers run in their data centers in the middle of nowhere, this energy will be lost and contribute a bit to more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

What if Google would run their – virtual – data centers divided into millions tiny pieces, consisting of computers running in our homes?

This is an idea, that has been presented – though in a more serious and realistic fashion, and not focussed on Google, at the conference Hotcloud 11:

The Data Furnace: Heating Up with Cloud Computing

Cloud computing is hot, literally.

Computers can be placed directly into buildings to provide low latency cloud computing for its offices or residents, and the heat that is generated can be used to heat the building.

Thus in winter or during the night the provider of cloud services would offload / “send” more computing tasks to your heater-computer. Resembling the good old SETI screen saver searching for intelligent life in the universe (which was triggered by your being idle, not by your freezing).

I agree to all the caveats listed in the article, in particular the security related aspects. As a service provider you might not want to place your hardware in an insecure, uncontrolled environment. This is like Smart Meters, just worse. In addition, Google has a point here regarding the efficiency of scale of large data centers.

But it’s geeky nonetheless!

Google, by the way, had once really planned to enter the energy business directly, as MIT Technology Review has reported last year:

[In 2007 Google] posted jobs for engineers who could speed up design of renewable-energy projects and put a team to work improving the heliostat, a mirrored device that focuses the sun’s rays to make thermal energy.

They also ventured into something Smart-Meter-like:

… PowerMeter, another canceled project. The software was meant to help homeowners monitor their energy use. Energy entrepreneur Kurt Brown says it had a major flaw: “Their interface was for nerds. It was something mostly a smart Googler would be intrigued by.”

Probably I would have loved this interface!

And the conclusion is:

The cancelled plans show the hazards of believing that success in computing—where products can take days to prototype—can carry over to energy.

Yes – I got it, but it will not stop me!

Currently Google is a player in the energy business, as an investor in renewable energy technology and owner of  wind farms.

I have come across other speculations how Google might enter the energy business, such as: Google might sell electricity at a competitive price, and users would provide (even more) personal data to compensate for that, or Google might offer their “algorithmic power” to utilities or compete with them with respect to aggregating data. But I cannot trace this down to a real product or service offered by Google today (E.g. on Google’s energy website).

North American users – enlighten me if Google really sells electricity to end users!

12 Comments Add yours

  1. M. Hatzel says:

    I feel a little less guilty about my on-line reading now. Admittedly, I’d give up ironing shirts long before I quit googling. But seriously, isn’t this brilliant? My husband and I are compiling a list of things we want to see before we die… we haven’t travelled extensively, and we’re not cut out to be tourists, but we’d like to see things like the recovery process of strip mines in New Zealand, recycling facilities in Denmark, and after you mentioned it, the wind farms on the Canary Islands… maybe one day we’ll investigate data centre heat recovery units, too!

    1. elkement says:

      I don’t iron shirts, too! Yes, visiting Google’s datacenters would be worth it – they have opened them for the first time last year – amazing photos:

      1. M. Hatzel says:

        Interesting article! Thanks for the link. It all has the feeling of Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory (right down to the secret recipes).

        1. elkement says:

          Very apt, thanks :-)

  2. Ha. I enjoyed this. The nucleus of a scifi novel resides in here somewhere – really! You know those diagrams that look like nothing until you really focus hard – and all of a sudden something develops out of the nothing? Well … the topic you have raised here is very much like that. Your piece is written in jest … but the weird thing is that there are folks out there who think this way (as I’m sure you know)! Yikes. I really loved the parting shot about the wood stove. And, who ever said that smart folks can’t have a sense of humor!? D

    1. elkement says:

      Thanks! I believe most of my blog posts emerge like: “all of a sudden something develops out of the nothing” ;-) Actually I did some – dead serious – research on energy contracting for home owners on the one hand and smart metering on the other hand. Suddenly I found this gem of a paper on the Data Furnace – provided by Google search results :-)

  3. That is an amazing, and more importantly, practical, idea!

    1. elkement says:

      Absolutely! At least the heat produced by your own computers should be utilized – such as companies running big data centers should re-use some of this heat, instead of using even more energy for AC. (It seems Google does this already, if we trust the PR stories.)

  4. So how much energy would be generated from writing and deleting spam? Novel concept.

    1. elkement says:

      If I remember correctly, the majority of all e-mails sent is spam (> 80% or 90% or so). I guess the same is true for blog comments. So you are right – the potential is enormous!! :-D
      We should not complain about spam – it keeps our rooms warm!

  5. marksackler says:

    Google=negative energy in the form of all that wasted time surfing the net. You are too much, Elke! ;)

    1. elkement says:

      Probably it’s also = negative CO2 emissions? Facebook and Twitter might be even more effective! So we have solved global warming issues!

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