National / International News
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.
But, did you know they were breaking the law?
"No person shall coast or slide a sled within Capitol Grounds." Also, kite-flying and tricycles are prohibited. http://t.co/PrvShwSyKA— David Gura (@davidgura) March 5, 2015
It's true. From the Capitol Grounds Regulations, courtesy of the architect of the capitol's office: "No person shall coast or slide a sled within Capitol Grounds."
Bah ... humbug.
Joining the ranks of Chik-filet and Chipotle, fast-food giant McDonald’s is promising us antibiotic free chicken by 2017 in its 14,000 U.S. locations.
Right now, farmers use antibiotics to keep flocks healthy and grow faster. McDonald's said more health conscious consumers drove their decision to start using chickens that are not given the same antibiotics that are used to treat people. The CDC says ‘superbugs’ lead to 23,000 deaths a year and 2 million illnesses.
The Pew Charitable Trust's Gail Hansen says, "When you consider in the United States we raise 9 billion chickens a year. Every time you give an antibiotic into a bird, you potentially can get antibiotic resistance." Hansen calls McDonald's shift in policy a game changer. As another source said, when Chik-filet and McDonald’s do something, it’s not some Berkeley, California thing … it's mainstream.
So how much more money will consumers have to fork over to pay for this trend? Raising antibiotic-free chickens is more expensive says University of Georgia Veterinarian Chuck Hofacre: "It’ll take more corn and soybean to be fed to the chickens to get the same amount of chicken meat." The National Chicken Council says that translates into 5 to 7 cents a pound. In other words, if the price of corn goes up, so will your Chicken McNugget.
Apple is reportedly planning to start producing a bigger iPad with a 13-inch screen, and possibly with USB ports, by the second half of 2015.
The move would be aimed at business customers, says Eric Smith of Strategy Analytics, mirroring a strategy that a number of other companies are already employing — including Microsoft and Google's Android.
HP has a line of rugged Android and Windows tablets specialized for in-the-field applications, and anti-microbial surface models for health care use, says Smith. "Other vendors like Lenovo and Dell are also addressing this market." he says.
Microsoft has been selling its Surface Pro 3 tablet as a laptop alternative for both work and leisure use, and plans to release its new Windows operating system that can work on mobile and traditional PCs.
The question is "who can win over the CIOs in reliability, in security, in interoperability," says Smith.
The battle is important because growth in the multi-billion-dollar tablet market is slowing down on the consumer side, says JP Bouchard of the market research firm IDC, but adoption of tablets in business is still nascent and has the potential for more growth.
"People are not replacing tablets every two years or even every three years. So that market is a bit saturated on the consumer space," Bouchard says.