National News

Tesla is disrupting more than just the car business

Marketplace - American Public Media - Sat, 2016-02-06 16:01

Tesla Motors is building the world's biggest battery factory just outside of Reno, Nevada. The company is calling it the “gigafactory,” and when it’s up and running in 2016 it’s expected to make Tesla’s electric cars much more affordable. 

“In a single factory we're doubling the worldwide capacity to manufacture lithium-ion batteries,” says J.B. Straubel, Tesla's chief technology officer. 

That's significant enough. But the company also plans to develop batteries for use with solar-power generation – giving Tesla a shot at challenging public utilities as an energy source, Straubel says.

“At the price points that we're expecting to achieve with the gigafactory ... we see a market that is well in excess of the production capability of the factory,” says Straubel.

The market for batteries is an offshoot of the booming business for solar panels, particularly in states such as California, where solar is becoming commonplace.

“We sign up approximately one new customer every minute of the workday," says Will Craven, director of public affairs at California-based SolarCity.

Much of the excess energy harnessed by solar panels is returned to the power grid, Cravens says. This means homeowners and businesses may earn a credit from their power companies, but have no say over when and how that energy is used.

The partnership with SolarCity will use rooftop solar panels fitted with Tesla’s battery packs to allow customers to keep that energy in-house. That means they can use it however, and whenever, they want. The concept puts Tesla in direct competition with utility companies.

“Stationary storage, or backup storage, is really being considered the ‘Holy Grail’ of renewable electricity generation,” says Ben Kallo, an analyst with the Robert W. Baird financial services firm.

Kallo points out that the intermittent nature of renewable energy sources makes them less reliable because the wind doesn’t always blow and the sun doesn’t always shine.  But with the ability to store that energy, renewable energy sources can compete head-to-head with utility companies for customers.

“There are still many utilities out there who kind of have their head stuck in the sand and just hope that this goes away. What we're seeing is really building momentum,” Kallo says.

Forward-minded utilities might look at Tesla’s business model as an opportunity, he says.  Energy-storage technology could be used to build capacity in their existing grids, and also build new infrastructure for battery-powered cars and homes.

 

Strong Earthquake Shakes Kathmandu

NPR News - Fri, 2015-04-24 23:56

The 7.9 earthquake caused extensive damage with toppled walls and collapsed buildings. Dozens of were brought to the main hospital in central Kathmandu. There was no immediate estimate on fatalities.

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Jenner: 'For All Intents And Purposes, I Am A Woman'

NPR News - Fri, 2015-04-24 17:12

In an interview with Diane Sawyer on ABC's "20/20", the former gold-medal-winning Olympic decathlete described a struggle with gender identity that began in childhood.

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Apprehensions Along Southern Border Drop Dramatically In 2015

NPR News - Fri, 2015-04-24 17:00

Apprehensions dropped by 28 percent compared to the same time period last year. Apprehensions of minors also dropped by 50 percent.

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A Most Indelible Ink: A Magazine Printed Using Blood

NPR News - Fri, 2015-04-24 15:06

A Lebanese magazine published its latest issue using donated blood to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the massacre of an estimated 1.5 million Armenians.

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PepsiCo Swaps Diet Drink's Aspartame For Other Artificial Sweeteners

NPR News - Fri, 2015-04-24 15:06

The company says Diet Pepsi consumers are concerned about aspartame. But the Food and Drug Administration has long affirmed that the sweetener is safe in amounts commonly used by beverage companies.

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#NPRreads: Rube Goldberg Machine's Dark Orgins And Spalding Gray's Last Days

NPR News - Fri, 2015-04-24 15:04

For your weekend reading, our staff also recommends a piece on an HIV outbreak in Austin, Indiana.

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These Animals Might Go Extinct Because No One Wants To Eat Them

NPR News - Fri, 2015-04-24 14:47

Many species have gone extinct because humans hunted them into oblivion for their meat. But there's another group of animals that are endangered because we've lost interest in breeding them.

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Baltimore Police: Freddie Gray Should've Gotten Medical Help At Scene Of Arrest

NPR News - Fri, 2015-04-24 13:31

Giving an update about how Gray was injured, police said they still have many gaps to fill, but the picture is becoming clearer. Police now know that Gray was never buckled into the police van.

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Weekly Wrap: Nasdaq, Greece and Comcast

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2015-04-24 13:23

Joining Kai to talk about the week's business and economic news are Felix Salmon of Fusion and Jo Ling Kent of Fox Business News.

The big topics this week: Nasdaq's record high, Greece's meeting with eurozone finance ministers in Riga, Latvia and the collapse of the Time Warner Cable-Comcast merger.

Listen to the full conversation using the audio player above.

 

What's That Smell? The Beautiful Tree That's Causing Quite A Stink

NPR News - Fri, 2015-04-24 13:00

Once embraced by cities for its beautiful white flowers, disease resistance and ability to grow just about anywhere, the Callery pear is now considered a nuisance due to its smell and invasive nature.

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How much paper would it take to print the Internet?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2015-04-24 13:00

This story falls firmly in the categories of A: People having too much time on their hands and B: Stuff that's kind of interesting nonetheless.

Students at the University of Leicester over in the U.K. have figured out how much paper it would take to print the Internet. The whole Internet. 

They started by figuring out what it would take to print Wikipedia. Turns out? Almost 71 million pieces of paper. 

Then, using the generally accepted figure of 4.5 billion websites out there, and adjusting for font size, pictures and all that, they say it'd take 136 billion pieces of 8-by-11-inch paper to print the whole Internet.

Amazon's cloud services rain profits

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2015-04-24 13:00

Amazon released first-quarter earnings Thursday,  and made it clear that,  for now, it owns the cloud and it's raining profits.

Amazon Web Services, which offers data storage and other tech services,  took in revenues of $1.57 billion during the first three months of the year.  Profits topped $265 million. 

“Yeah, I mean, [it's] really firing on all cylinders,” says Colin Sebastian, senior research analyst at Robert Baird. 

Amazon's success in the cloud can be credited to one very smart move, says Sebastion.  It got there first. 

“The reason they dominate is they created this market,” he says 

Amazon started as an online marketplace for everything. To be that marketplace, it had to build more and more servers. The company built  to peak capacity, which means often times it was left with more capacity than it needed. 

“They woke up one day and realized they could sell that same service to other companies.”

Amazon Web Service’s profit margin is 17 percent. The company's overall profit margin is 2 percent. "Think of it as accounting for a third of overall profits, a tremendous amount of operating income” says Gene Munster, senior research analyst at Piper Jaffray.  

Cloud services are still a nascent industry. “There are literally tens if not hundreds of billions of dollars at stake,” says Sebastian.

And AWS is still seven times larger than Microsoft's cloud services — it's nearest competitor, says Munster.  But Google, IBM and HP are all racing to catch up by offering more than simple data storage, which has become a commodity. 

Munster says it’s going to be hard for competitors to gain market share. AWS already has more than a million customers including Netflix and NASA, “and now what we’re seeing now, is businesses are standardizing on Amazon Web Service, building applications that are optimized for AWS, that just creates more stickiness.”

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has said web services could one day outsize Amazon’s retail business. That day  may not come soon enough. As it has done many times, the retail side posted a loss last quarter. 

Clearing The Tangled Path For Land Ownership In The West Bank

NPR News - Fri, 2015-04-24 12:55

Palestinians often buy and sell land without title deeds, or proof of ownership. That's because most of the land doesn't have them. It a problem dating back generations.

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The complicated formula — and incentives — behind CEO pay

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2015-04-24 12:45

Long ago, CEO pay came in the form of a CEO paycheck — and perhaps a bonus. 

Today, Aaron Boyd, director of governance research at executive compensation firm Equilar, says those cash payments are dwarfed by the roughly 65 percent of compensation for S&P 500 CEOs that comes in the form of stock.

Time-based Stock: Stocks that are awarded once you have worked at a company for a specific amount of time, such as 5 years. 

Performance Stock: Stocks that are awarded if the company meets certain metrics, like revenue goals or earnings per share.

Raghu Manavalan/Marketplace

The shift to stock was motivated in part by regulators' and shareholders' desire to make CEOs more accountable.

"The obvious thing to do for the CEO would be to just, you know, relax, definitely slack off on our dime," says Lalitha Naveen, associate professor of finance at the Fox School of Business at Temple University.

"If you want to prevent that then you want the CEO to think like a shareholder," Naveen says. 

Most of that stock compensation itself is now tied to some further performance metrics. But Kevin Murphy, professor of finance and business economics at the USC Marshall School of Business, thinks while the idea sounds good on paper, it's only created more ways to game the compensation system.

LGBT Activists Push States To Expand Anti-Discrimination Laws

NPR News - Fri, 2015-04-24 12:40

The Supreme Court hears arguments over same-sex marriage on Tuesday. But laws still exist in many states that allow discrimination against LGBT people in employment, housing and public accommodations.

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In Charlotte, Police Use Simulators To Engage Community Amid Distrust

NPR News - Fri, 2015-04-24 12:22

In the wake of several police shootings of unarmed black men, many police departments are holding community forums to talk to residents about policing.

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At The Heart Of A Watch, Tested By Time

NPR News - Fri, 2015-04-24 12:22

Watchmakers have long thrived by selling timepieces that will be cherished as family heirlooms. But, if pragmatism rendered the pocket watch obsolete, what happens when watches become computers?

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Young Trafficking Victim's Story On NPR Leads To Senator's Amendment

NPR News - Fri, 2015-04-24 12:16

Hearing the NPR story of a young woman's struggle to wipe away her conviction on prostitution charges inspired New Hampshire Sen. Jeanne Shaheen to introduce legislation to help other victims.

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Scientists Discover Massive New Magma Chamber Under Yellowstone

NPR News - Fri, 2015-04-24 12:05

The newly discovered chamber is 4.5 times larger than the shallow reservoir already known and it contains enough partially molten rock to fill the Grand Canyon 11 times.

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