National / International News

SolarCity courts customers by selling bonds

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-10-20 02:00

SolarCity, the country’s biggest installer of home rooftop solar-energy systems, now has a new product: bonds that let consumers invest in thousand-dollar increments. But with billions in capital from big banks as well as the stock market, what's the point of borrowing up to $200 million from consumers?

It's not the cash, says the company's CEO, Lyndon Rive. At least not primarily. "The number one reason is to create more awareness," he says. "For people to participate, get a financial return. Now they tell their friends: 'Hey, have you looked at solar bonds? Have you looked at solar?'"

And have you looked at SolarCity?  

In addition to raising money, the campaign could cut down on one of the company's biggest costs: sales. An investor is a hot lead, and a source of referrals. 

"Customer acquisition is maddeningly expensive for residential-solar," says Shayle Kann, senior vice-president at GTM Research, which tracks the green-energy sector. 

Right now, SolarCity’s business model only works in about 15 states. But the company can sell bonds — and build relationships — in all 50, for the day when, or if, other states open up.

Advocates in those states — for instance, bond-holders — can only help. "They're not exactly customers if they buy bonds," says Kann. "But they're probably advocates, or supporters."

The push to expand into new markets, and to lock up potential customers in those markets, is key to SolarCity’s overall strategy, says Severin Borenstein, an economics professor at Berkeley who studies renewable energy.  

SolarCity's competitors are trying the same thing. "Right now, a lot of solar companies have the strategy of trying to get large enough on what is basically a bet on getting out ahead and being the recognized name brand, which could potentially have huge value," says Borenstein.

He compares it to the bet Microsoft made on computer operating systems in the 1980s. SolarCity wants to be the Microsoft of solar.

But what if it’s the AOL instead? Remember all those CDs from the 1990s?

That's not the worst-case scenario, says Borenstein. "It's not just a matter of whether they're going to be the Microsoft of solar or the AOL of solar," he says, "but whether they're going to be the Microsoft of solar or the Microsoft of a product that never takes off at all."

Residential solar isn't a sure bet, says Borenstein, so neither are SolarCity's bonds. "While it's a very exciting company right now, I think it's probably in a more volatile business than most people would invest in."

You've got mail! AOL sent out zillions of these.

unknown/PandoDaily.com

Making a smartphone for just $25

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-10-20 02:00

Here’s a market you’ll be likely to hear more of in tech: “The Next Billion.” It's shorthand for the next billion people that will become online consumers, and that makes them the target of tech giants like Google, Facebook and Samsung.

The next billion live in emerging economies like China, India, Brazil and Africa. Jenna Burrell, a professor at UC Berkeley’s School of Information, has been studying one of these markets, namely Ghana, since the early 2000s. She says even back then, it was clear that people who wanted to get online weren’t going to use desktops.

“You know it’s a small number of people who were going to Internet cafés, but almost everyone was either using, or owning or getting possession of a mobile phone,” Burrell says.

While a growing number of people in Ghana have smartphones today, the market is very different from the U.S.

Burrell shows me a phone she bought there. It has an antenna for the built-in transistor radio, and it has a flashlight for when the electricity goes out.

Burrell cracked open the back of her cellphone and points: “Underneath the battery pack where most of us don’t really look, it’s got a slot for your SIM card.”

Like most of the next billion, the majority of people in Ghana don’t have pre-paid mobile plans. Instead, they use SIM cards, which are basically phone cards or prepaid time that you insert into your phone.

“This unit is worth about two minutes of airtime, and that gives you a sense of how it’s a very precious commodity,” she says.

Burrell says that on a continent where most people make about a dollar a day, even a few minutes of airtime is a big expense. That’s where Mozilla, a non-profit organization teaming up with local carriers to make affordable phones, comes in.

Andreas Gal, Mozilla’s chief technology officer, dumps a number of handsets onto a desk in his Silicon Valley office. 

“I brought these $25 smart phones,” he says. “These are the devices that launched recently in India.”

Critics of these $25 phones say web pages take forever to load, and you can’t run more than one app at a time.  

But forget the quality of the phone, said Rakesh Agrawal, the CEO of reDesign Mobile, which develops products for the next billion. He says in most emerging economies, it's data that's the problem—data plans are prohibitively expensive.

“You have to think about how much people can afford and what kind of services they can use over their smaller data pipes,” said Agrawal.

He says the next billion aren’t going to run apps mindlessly like we do. Which means, in part, tech companies can’t rely on advertising to make money off them.

“If you’re living on a dollar a day, Proctor and Gamble can’t afford to advertise to you, because you can’t afford their products,” Agrawal said.  

Despite these odds, tech companies will continue to pursue the next billion. Smart phone ownership — and sales of apps — will inevitably slow in the developed world over the next decades. Tech companies need the next billion to keep growing. So, they're getting ready.

The American Indian College Fund turns 25

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-10-20 02:00

The American Indian College Fund celebrates its 25th anniversary with a fundraiser in New York on Monday. The nonprofit was created to assist the country’s more than 30 tribal colleges and universities. These are federally-funded schools located on or near native lands.

Only about 10 percent of American Indians and Alaska Natives have a bachelor’s degree or higher, compared to about 30 percent of all adults, according to the group.

The big reason is poverty, says president Cheryl Crazy Bull. Tribal colleges cost on average $15,000 a year to attend, she says. The maximum federal Pell grant for low-income students covers only $5,730. 

“It’s a very affordable education,” Crazy Bull says. But for students living on reservations with a 60 to 80 percent unemployment rate, “it’s a huge gap.”

The College Fund tries to bridge that gap with scholarships. It’s aiming to raise an extra $25 million this year.

The group recently got a boost from Comcast and NBC Universal: $5 million in ad time for a new public service campaign.

Here are a few numbers from the American Indian College Fund:

Up to 95 percent

The unemployment rate on some American Indian reservations. In total, almost 29 percent of American Indians on reservations live below the federal poverty level. 

$16,777

The per capita income of American Indians and Alaska Natives, according the American Community Survey in 2013. Meanwhile, the average cost of attendance at a tribal college or university is $14,566.

10 percent

That's approximate percentage of American Indian and Alaska Natives who have earned a bachelor's degree or higher, compared to about 30 percent of all adults. Natives have the lowest educational attainment rates of all ethnic and racial groups in America.

China says no to Dumbledore

BBC - Mon, 2014-10-20 01:59
China says 'No' to Dumbledore

Prince Charles orders squirrel cull

BBC - Mon, 2014-10-20 01:54
The Prince of Wales orders a cull of grey squirrels on Duchy of Cornwall land in an attempt to protect the indigenous red variety.

EU immigration - the Croatian solution?

BBC - Mon, 2014-10-20 01:39
How can migration be limited without affecting freedom of movement?

Life inside a Taliban stronghold

BBC - Mon, 2014-10-20 01:31
Rare glimpse of militants' camp at the gateway to Kabul

US drops arms to Kurds battling IS

BBC - Mon, 2014-10-20 01:28
US military aircraft drop weapons, ammunition and medical supplies to Kurdish fighters battling IS militants in the key Syrian town of Kobane.

VIDEO: Equal parental pay for civil service

BBC - Mon, 2014-10-20 01:23
All Civil Service employees will be entitled to full parental pay from April 2015, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg will announce.

Girl, 15, dies during football match

BBC - Mon, 2014-10-20 01:15
A teenage girl dies after collapsing during a football match in Lancashire.

VIDEO: Watch Redknapp's Taarabt rant

BBC - Mon, 2014-10-20 01:14
QPR manager Harry Redknapp says Adel Taarabt is "three stone overweight" and says the midfielder is "not fit to play football".

Jokowi sworn in as Indonesia leader

BBC - Mon, 2014-10-20 01:07
Joko Widodo, the charismatic outsider who won Indonesia's presidency, calls for national reconciliation and unity as he is sworn in.

VIDEO: Japan minister quits amid row

BBC - Mon, 2014-10-20 01:00
Japan's Trade and Industry Minister Yuko Obuchi resigns and is swiftly followed by Justice Minister Midori Matsushima.

Three-week bin collection starts

BBC - Mon, 2014-10-20 00:56
Bin and refuse collection in Gwynedd will now be every three weeks instead of every fortnight, as a controversial scheme gets under way.

VIDEO: Mental health and motherhood

BBC - Mon, 2014-10-20 00:48
Ruth Eglin, Abi Sherratt and Natalie Nuttall, who all suffered mental health problems related to their pregnancies, spoke to the BBC about their experiences.

VIDEO: Nepal survivor: 'Not my day to die'

BBC - Mon, 2014-10-20 00:42
UK police sergeant Paul Sherridan was in the Himalayas for Nepal's worst ever trekking disaster and helped many trekkers to safety.

Pakistan charity boss 'heartbroken'

BBC - Mon, 2014-10-20 00:34
One of Pakistan's top charity leaders tells the BBC he is heartbroken after being robbed at gunpoint.

Hundreds of IT jobs to be created

BBC - Mon, 2014-10-20 00:27
More than 620 IT jobs are being created in south Wales by a Canadian IT firm which has funding from a Welsh government grant.

Carrier bag charge comes into effect

BBC - Mon, 2014-10-20 00:26
A public awareness campaign is being launched to highlight the carrier bag charge which has come into force.

The Look Of Power: How Women Have Dressed For Success

NPR News - Mon, 2014-10-20 00:23

Just as women were entering the corporate workplace in big numbers, the shapeless power suit emerged. Over time, the "power look" changed. How do women project power in the modern office?

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