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.
Low-income riders can now qualify for a program that will slash their fares by more than half of peak rates. But the cost will be offset by fare increases for everybody else.
A long-term deal like that, Obama said in an interview with Reuters, would be the best way to assure that Iran does not attain a nuclear weapon.
It's official. In a speech Monday at the Mobile World Congress, Sundar Pichai, a Google senior vice president, confirmed the months-old rumors: The Internet giant is getting into the wireless network business. But only in what he called a "very small-scale" way.
"They don’t plan on really setting up a service that will go directly head-to-head with the two that dominate the market, AT&T and Verizon," says Gartner analyst Bill Menezes. Instead of building its own cell-phone towers, Google plans to choose certain locations to set up a "mobile virtual network operator (MVNO)"—a kind of middleman that buys and repackages access to data, texting and phone calls from the big wireless-network providers.
There are many MVNOs already in the market. Scott Allan, director of Ting — an MVNO that works with Sprint — says his company's innovation is flexible billing. Ting charges less when customers use less data.
It remains to be seen what Google's product will look like, but Ben Schachter, Internet analyst at Macquarie, believes the company will focus on pushing more people online.
"At the end of the day, who benefits from that? Google," says Gartner's Menezes. "Because all those people are using search, accessing YouTube, using Google docs, and so on."
Bill Lewis is waiting for the sun to set, the time of day when his bees crawl back inside the short white boxes that house their colonies. As the sky turns pink behind the San Gabriel mountains, on the outskirts of Los Angeles, Lewis climbs into the seat of a forklift and starts moving the hives onto the back of a flatbed truck. These bees are on the move.
“As soon as you get on the freeway and there’s air flowing past the entrances, all the bees run back inside,” says Lewis, of any stragglers.
Lewis, who runs Bill’s Bees, is taking about 700 of his hives on a road trip to the California’s Central Valley, where he’ll unload them across acres of almond orchards, working until 1 or 2 a.m. under the light of full moon.
All across the country, more than a million-and-a-half colonies are making a similar journey – traveling hundreds or even thousands of miles to pollinate California’s almonds. Farmers rent hives for few weeks because in order for almond trees to produce nuts, bees need to move pollen from one tree to another.
No bees, no almonds.
“This pollination season there will be [some] 800,000 acres of almonds that need to be pollinated,” says Eric Mussen, a honey bee specialist at the University of California Davis. He says more than 100 different kinds of crops need these rent-a-bees, but almonds are significant for the number of acres that require pollination all at the same time. About 85 percent of the commercial bees in United States – which Mussen calls “bees on wheels” – travel to California for almonds.
The state supplies roughly 80 percent of the world’s almonds, worth $6.4 billion during the 2013-2014 season, according to the Almond Board of California.
“It’s a matter of numbers,” he says. “You’re trying to provide enough bees to be moving the pollen around between the varieties and whatnot. It’s just a huge, huge number of bees. The only way we can get a huge number of bees in one place at one time is to bring them in on trucks.”
In fact, bees are such an important part of the almond business that Paramount Farms, one of the biggest almond growers in the world, has decided they need to be in the bee business, too. The company just bought one of the largest beekeepers in the United States, based in Florida.
“Bees are so essential for the process of growing almonds,” says Joe Joe MacIlvane, Paramount’s president. “If we don’t have a reliable supply of good strong colonies, we simply won’t be a viable almond grower, so that’s our primary motivation for getting into the business.”
Renting bees is about 10 to 15 percent of Paramount’s production costs, but the motivation to keep their own bees isn’t simply economic.
“Many bee keepers are individual or family business and many people are getting on in years and we don’t see a lot of young people coming into the business,” says MacIlvane.
Additionally, bee populations are struggling. A significant number having been dying each year for the past decade or so, thanks to a mix of factors, from pesticides to lost habitat for feeding. Sometimes it’s difficult to know exactly what’s killing them.
“We had a large problem last year with bees dying in the orchard because of something that was going on during bloom,” says Bill Lewis. He thinks a pesticide or fungicide may have been to blame.
This year, Lewis and his bee broker are being pickier about the farms they’re working with, vetting them more carefully because those lost bees had big economic consequences – about $300,000 in lost income for Lewis.
Claudette Colvin was a 15-year-old student from Montgomery when she refused to yield her bus seat to a white passenger. But she has been largely forgotten in civil rights history.
There is a trial going on in San Francisco that has its roots down the road in Silicon Valley. Ellen Pao is suing her former employer Kleiner Perkins — the big-name venture capital firm — for gender discrimination and retaliation.
The trial is offering a rare glimpse into the not-always-transparent side of Silicon Valley: who gets the money and how those decisions are made.
It's a landmark case, says Re/code reporter Liz Gannes, because it's surfacing some of the tech industry's long-time diversity problems.
"It's bringing together a whole bunch of issues around gender, around what happens at the highest echelon of the tech industry," Gannes says.
The case is far from over, but Gannes says it's clear Pao had to deal with some inappropriate workplace situations.
"I wouldn't say that they've really truly established a pattern of gender discrimination yet, but there's some pretty egregious stuff that's happened," says Gannes.
About 20 percent of venture capitalists who make investment decisions are women at Kleiner Perkins, Gannes says.
"These are the people who control who gets money, who builds products," she says, "and I think it would be a better situation if they were more representative."
The near-record winter is testing a longtime Boston tradition of allowing residents to save a parking space they shoveled out 48 hours. The problem is that the snow hasn't stopped falling.
For this week's Sandwich Monday, we try a new twist on a classic. It's a corn dog that uses funnel cake in place of corn meal to encase a hot dog.
People who walked briskly for 40 minutes five days a week saw more health improvements than those who walked for an hour a day but were more leisurely about it. Both groups lost weight.
Many young Muslims say they feel part of their communities in Britain, but have to deal with a range of misconceptions.
A new service in a Portuguese city not only provides commuters with free Internet connections but it also helps collect data that makes the municipality run more efficiently.
When mothers need day care for their children, the best person to turn to might be another mother. That's the lesson of the new cooperative nurseries in an Indian state.
Arizona voters approved a bipartisan commission to draw lines between congressional districts. Now the Supreme Court has been asked to put the legislators back in charge.
"Do I spend my time raising money, or do I spend my time raising hell?" the Maryland Democrat asked, announcing she will not seek a sixth term in the Senate.
Strong drugs are rarely warranted to control the behavior of dementia patients, specialists say. But antipsychotic medicine is being overprescribed, and not just among residents of nursing homes.
Last summer, a court overturned the hate-crime convictions of 16 men. Today, their leader, Sam Mullet, and the 15 others received reduced sentences ranging from 10 years to seven months.
Built in 110 days and destroyed in one, Vanport, Ore. was a symbol of a booming World War II-era economy, but one built on a shaky foundation.
Lonesome George was was the last surviving member of his species and a conservation icon. When he died, taxidermist George Dante set out to preserve the tortoise's body, and his legacy.
The President's Task Force on 21st Century Policing also emphasized the need for better training and equipment, including bulletproof vests. But it stopped short of insisting police wear body cameras.