if google was really serious about climate change

Google is very proud of their solar panel project:

Google has installed over 90% of the 9,212 solar panels that comprise the 1,600 kilowatt project. Panels cover the rooftops of eight buildings and two newly constructed solar carports at the Googleplex.

This installation is projected to produce enough electricity for approximately 1,000 California homes or 30% of Google’s peak electricity demand in our solar powered buildings at our Mountain View, CA headquarters.

Yawn. Sure its better than nothing. But its significance? Debatable.

First of all, California’s energy mix from 2006:

California Gross System Power for 2006
In Gigawatt-Hours (GWh)

Fuel Type

In-State

NW Imports

SW Imports

GSP

GSP Percentage

Coal

17,573

5,467

23,195

46,235

15.7%

Large Hydro

43,088

10,608

2,343

56,039

19.0%

Natural Gas

106,968

2,051

13,207

122,226

41.5%

Nuclear

31,959

556

5,635

38,150

12.9%

Renewables

30,514

1,122

579

32,215

10.9%

TOTAL

230,102

19,804

44,959

294,865

100.0%

This mix shows that California uses fossil fuels to produce:

(coal) 15.7% + (natural gas) 41.5% = 57.2%

of our electricity. So of Google’s nominal 1600kw solar installation only ~897.6 kw (slight deduction because solar power is variable during the day) displaces a greenhouse-gas-producing energy source. But lets say that Google got all of its fossil fuel electricity from coal. Using this information:

500 mw coal plant = 3700000 CO2 tons/year
3700000 tons/year = 7400tons/mw/yr.
For Google: 7400*0.8976 mw displaced = 6642.24 tons/year

Now lets compare shall we?

Gallon of gas is about 6lbs and it is mostly carbon. For example, one sample compound in gasoline is octane which is C8H18. So carbon
(atomic weight 6 ) when burned combines with 2 oxygen atoms (atomic weight 8 ) resulting in CO2 (atomic weight 22 ). Therefore each gallon of gas when burned produces 3 2/3 its weight in CO2 or 22 pounds of CO2.

90.9 gallons of gas = 1 ton (2000 lbs)

6642.24 (google solar power savings) * 90.9 gallons of gas = 603780 gallons of gas

So what is this equivalent to?

Well over the next few years Google is planning on adding 3,000+ people at their Mountain View Headquarters. So those solar panels just about cover 1610 Google employees driving their 40mpg Prius 15,000 miles a year to get to work.

The math:

250 work days * 30 miles one-way * 2 = 15000 miles

This math reflects the reality of the bay area. 50% of the Bay Area’s greenhouse gas come from transportation. That you and me driving to work. By ourselves.

So if Google really wanted to impact the climate change problem they would:

Make it possible for employees to live closer to their job

This means satellite offices. Don’t expand in Mountain View. Mountain View refuses to build more housing because Mountain View City Council is not serious about Climate Change. If Google is serious about Climate Change, Google should build its offices close to where its employees can find housing. (Either that or have a serious heart-to-heart with certain MV politicos who like to pretend to be environmentalists when it is not too inconvenient.)

If Google enabling their employees to walk to work or take mass transit (and no the Google buses only partially count), this would do far more than those solar panels.

Provide free transportation during lunch hour from Google to local cities

Out of the 15,000 employees at the Googleplex. Lets say 3,000 every day decide that they don’t want to eat the cafeteria food. Figuring 3 people/car and half the cars go to Palo Alto (6 miles * 2 * 250 work days * 500 cars = 1500000mi. 37500 gallons with a Prius or 412.5 tons of CO2 ) and half go to Mountain View. (2.7 miles * 2 * 250 work days * 500 cars = 675000 miles. 16875 gallons with a Prius or 185.625 tons of CO2 ). Or in other words, 10%30% (see update at bottom) of the savings from the solar panels!

Naturally the numbers go down the more employees that love the cafeteria food. But it goes up for those going to lunch by themselves or in something less fuel-efficient.

Pay people not to drive

Reduce the parking and pay people not to drive to work. This is called Parking Cashout:

Cashing out reduced total vehicle emissions for commuting by 12 percent, with a range from 5 to 24 percent. To view the report summary (abstract) or to download a copy of the report

For Google, lets assume that 33% of the employees take the Google bus, public transit or telecommute. That leaves about 10,000 people driving 150,000,000 total miles each year to get to Google. Because they all drive 40mpg Prius, they ‘only’ burn 3,750,000 gallons of gas and ‘only’ produce 41250 tons of CO2. If Google could incentivize only 5% of those 10,000 employees to take public transit or telecommute, Google would stop 2062.5 tons/year of CO2 from being produced or about 30% 90% (see update at bottom) of the savings from the solar panels.

Inform the public

Google Maps is great. I use it all the time. Google added a public transit link. But they should really go a lot farther.

  1. Determine the quickest route via car and via public transit. If public transit is within 10% of driving then display the public transit option preferentially.
  2. When displaying the distance calculate and display the fuel cost of the trip (assume ~18 mpg). Compare the cost to the cost of public transit.
  3. If public transit option includes, a bit of walking calculate how much calories would be burned. Display this in terms of time on a stairmaster at the gym. If trip involves hills, include that in the calorie consumption.
  4. Trip planner: Allow a user to enter multiple errand destinations. Calculate the shortest trip to handle the errands. If destinations are within a mile of each other, assume the person is walking. (Display the calories burned as above).
  5. Commute planner: Allow a user to enter their home address and their work address.
    • Calculate the total cost of the commute for the whole year.
    • Total numbers of miles driven.
    • Total cost of the gas consumed.
    • Total number of hours (in terms of days) that the person is driving.
    • Time of day that they would leave their house and time that they would get home
    • Repeat the calculation for the public transit option
    • Allow side-by-side comparisons with two separate work destinations for case when a person has two different job offers.
  6. Home buying: Allow a user to enter their work address and multiple home addresses. Do the above calculations as above.
  7. If a user is driving to a destination that has a parking fee, include the parking fee in the cost of driving.

I challenge Google to really get serious about global warming.

[Update: Google’s promo-video claims:

17,247 equivalent gallons of gas/yr
1818.8 tons of CO2/yr savings

So these panels are 2/3ths less significant. Please divide by 3 and multiple by 3 where appropriate above)]

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