Business & Technology

What should Google do next?

I was excited to read this L.A. Times piece, which seemed to hold out the prospect of evidence that Google is moving into smart-grid technology. Instead of evidence, though, there was wild and utterly unmotivated speculation. I do enjoy speculating about what Google will do next though. It’s so nice to have a company with this kind of cultural cachet involved in energy. Makes energy cool. My vote for the next two Google investment areas: smart grid tech and energy storage. (I’ve asked Google folks about energy storage several times and they’re always quite vague.) What’s your vote?

Electric Mini Cooper coming to the U.S.

What’s cute and teeny and charged up? An electric Mini Cooper, which BMW will unveil at the Los Angeles Auto Show in November. Even more exciting — especially if you are among “select private and corporate customers” — a 500-vehicle test fleet will be available for lease in California, New Jersey, and New York early next year. While the creatively named Mini E will be manufactured in the United Kingdom and Germany, BMW is still mum on specific plans for a European release. The two-seater Mini E takes about eight hours to fully charge, then can travel 150 miles before …

Alternative energy takes a hit as economy slumps, oil prices fall

The alternative-energy industry, which enjoyed a boost when oil prices skyrocketed, is seeing its fortunes change. Per-barrel oil prices have halved since July, lessening consumer demand for alternatives. And the credit crunch sure isn’t helping, as long-term funding is harder to come by for wind, solar, electric vehicles, cellulosic biofuel, and their ilk. Renewable-energy stocks around the world have dropped some 45 percent in the past three months, according to consultancy New Energy Finance. Some companies are calling off initial public offerings because of poor market conditions; others have no choice but to step them up as bank loans become …

Going down

Hybrid production costs may drop two-thirds within 10 years

Bloomberg reports: Toyota Motor Corp., Honda Motor Co. and other carmakers may cut production costs for hybrid systems by 67 percent over the next decade as shipments rise and companies gain experience, according to JPMorgan Chase & Co. Gasoline-electric systems on average will cost $1,919 each in 2018, compared with an estimated $5,869 this year as the global market grows 16-fold to 9.6 million units over the same period, the bank said in a report released yesterday. This is remarkable news, especially when you consider that gasoline prices are all but certain to rise to $5 a gallon and higher …

More than one way to raise a hog

Hog farms can benefit rural agriculture and community

I spent last Thanksgiving on a 320-acre farm in Pocahontas County, Iowa where Jerry Depew grows corn and soybeans, and for more than 10 years, has also raised hogs. Jerry never has more than several hundred hogs at a time, and while this used to be commonplace on Iowa farms, most small and mid-sized hog operations in the state were lost during massive industry consolidation over the last 15 years. Jerry’s hogs remained because he raises them differently. The hogs I saw on Jerry’s farm lived in hoop houses. These pole-supported buildings have a partial concrete floor (the rest is …

Politico on green jobs

Political press takes on green jobs with less than stellar results

I’m of two minds about this Politico piece on green jobs. On one hand, it’s nice to see the notion getting into the political bloodstream. On the other hand, it does a woefully bad job of distinguishing the candidates and contains one horrific and fundamental error of fact. First, the error. Witness: The American Physical Society, an organization of physicists, issued a report last month concluding that energy efficiency “offers the cheapest, fastest way to wean ourselves off foreign oil and reduce global warming.” … The downside to that, of course, is that a candidate can’t boast about jobs and, …

Another one bites the dust

Tesla ousts second CEO in two years and plans to cut staff

CNET reported on Wed. that Tesla chairman Elon Musk bumped CEO Ze’ev Drori from the top slot and will take over his position while continuing to focus on product development. Drori didn’t last long in the limelight, as he came to the company in late 2007 after Musk ousted the other former CEO and Tesla co-founder, Martin Eberhard. The roadster manufacturer also plans “modest” layoffs to make the “cash flow-positive in the next six to nine months,” and will shut down its Detroit office.

Chicken not-so-little

The hyper-consolidated poultry industry might consolidate even more

Just four companies — Pilgrim’s Pride, Tyson, Perdue, and Sanderson Farms — slaughter and pack nearly 60 percent of the meat-chickens raised in the United States, reported [PDF] the researcher team Mary Hendrickson and William Heffernan.  That dominance gives these corporate giants what economists call monopsony power — the leverage to dictate to their suppliers (farmers) how chicken is grown and at what price. For a luminous explanation of how monopsony works, see Barry Lynn’s essay on Wal-Mart in the June 2006 Harper’s. Hendrickson and  Heffernan report that the share of the poultry market controlled by the top four players …

New energy economy emerging in the United States

Wind, solar thermal, and geothermal development outpaces expectations

As fossil fuel prices rise, as oil insecurity deepens, and as concerns about climate change cast a shadow over the future of coal, a new energy economy is emerging in the United States. The old energy economy, fueled by oil, coal, and natural gas, is being replaced by one powered by wind, solar, and geothermal energy. The transition is moving at a pace and on a scale that we could not have imagined even a year ago. Consider Texas. Long the leading oil-producing state, it is now also the leading generator of electricity from wind, having overtaken California two years …

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