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Has The Light Faded On Solar Power?

Last year, we raised the question of whether solar rooftop tiles would make a bold impact on the energy industry. Here we look at how the technology has progressed and what impact it’s had around the globe.

Our update comes amidst reports that the United States’ solar industry has slowed dramatically. The increase in other forms of technology, low oil prices and the fracking boom have stalled solar sales worldwide.

Elon Musk’s Solar City announced that solar roof tiles will be launched this year but unfortunately that didn’t seem to light up the industry. The solar slowdown did not bode well for the company during 2016 as it slashed nearly 20% of its workforce and sales became stagnant.

Solar City reduced its workforce by nearly 20% in 2016 after acquisition


Recently purchased by Tesla, Solar City, the largest solar energy installation company in the United States, reduced its staff force in operations, installations, manufacturing, sales, and marketing, but claimed it was only doing so to hold onto its assets. However, critics weren’t so sure.

Despite the dip in Solar City’s fortunes last year, Musk is confident that when the solar rooftop tiles are launched it will be good for business. The company estimates the tiles will be available in mid-2017.  However, additional specifications are still sparse and further details are lacking.

Solar City estimates tiles will be available in 2017 but details and updates are lacking

It’s not all doom and gloom for the solar and wind sectors as they are set to grow exponentially in the years to come as natural resources become depleted and oil prices increase.

What’s more, many US-based companies are realizing the potential of the technology early on and are preparing for the future solar energy boom.

Greenheath Corp., one of America leading solar power providers, has invested millions in developing the Curve solar panels. They have labeled it as “the most flexible and lightweight solar rooftop panel in the market to date.”

The Curve has been hailed as the latest technological breakthrough in the industry and is the first to be introduced in the world, with the makers stating that it will contribute to huge energy savings and will revolutionize the market.

Meanwhile, Amazon has announced that it will install solar panels on 15 of its fulfillment and storing centers in the United States throughout 2017. That may sound a small number but their warehouse facilities in Nevada, Delaware, California, New Jersey, and Maryland account for millions of square feet of solar roof space that is capable of reflecting 41MW of installed capacity.

Solar energy will eventually take off, but for now, it must plod along on the back-burner until the world is really ready to embrace such technology.

Self-Driving Cars: Legal War Heats Up Between Waymo And Uber

Google has accused Uber of stealing trade secrets in the current war of the self-driving car technology. Alphabet, their parent company, has filed papers against Uber Technologies over the secrets used to launch its own autonomous vehicle program.

Alphabet has pinpointed Anthony Levandowski, a key player in the Google self-driving car project, and accused him of secretly downloading 14,000 files before running off to startup self-driving truck firm Otto, which was acquired by Uber last year. The Google self-driving car project—now titled Waymo—states that they developed a laser sensor for self-driving car technology navigation which is now being used by Uber Technologies. Based on the content of the lawsuit filed by Alphabet in the U.S. District Court in San Francisco, Waymo also claims that other former employees—who are now evidently working at Uber—allegedly downloaded supplier lists, manufacturing details and other confidential information.

Waymo Amid the Current Self-Driving Car Technology Issue

The Wall Street Journal states that Waymo’s complaint said the “defendants leveraged stolen information to shortcut the process and purportedly build a comparable (laser sensor) system in only nine months.” So far, Uber has declined to comment on the situation. Nevertheless, they’ve disclosed that they are investigating the claims. One of their spokeswomen said, “We take the allegations made against Otto and Uber employees seriously and we will review this matter carefully.”

Waymo declares that it spent millions of dollars and thousands of hours to develop the laser-sensor system. The company states that “misappropriating this technology is akin to stealing a secret recipe from a beverage company”. Waymo also claims that trade secrets were not the only things that they were robbed of. They say that the “circuit board designs for Waymo’s lidar, or light detection and ranging system used to guide a vehicle” were also stolen.

Also, Waymo claims that a month before Levandowski left the company in January 2016, he “took extraordinary efforts to raid Waymo’s design server and then conceal his activities”. Nevertheless, reports say that Uber bought Otto for $680 million shortly after Levandowski received a multimillion-dollar compensation check from Alphabet in August 2016.

The lawsuit is the latest in a long line of problems to affect the once strong relationship between two of the leading technology companies in the world.

Google, Uber, and the Future Self-Driving Car Technology

Google initially sowed $258 million of investment into Uber. And there was a strong partnership forged between executives of the two companies. However, the relationship soured as Uber started to expand and innovate.

Far beyond the self-driving car technology issue, Uber has started to develop its own mapping software, rather than using Google Maps, and launched a delivery service that competes with its rival. Meanwhile, Google has jumped on the ride-sharing service sector and has taken Uber head on.

It remains to be seen what the outcome of this legal battle is, but what’s certain is it will become a benchmark for how technology companies hire, fire and use their staff force—and protect their design for self-driving car technology in the future.

Cloudflare User Data Breach – The Need For More Security

Internet-service giant Cloudflare recently revealed that a bug infiltrated their system causing sensitive user data to be leaked across the internet.

The firm is one of the largest internet infrastructure companies globally and provides millions of websites with a wide-range of performance and cyber security services.

The latest online issue has raised the bold question of whether internet-based or cloud shared information is ever totally secure.

According to wired.com, the platform had been leaking delicate information since September 2016 and was uncovered by Google vulnerability researcher Tavis Ormandy in February 2017.

Big names including FitBit, OKCupid and Uber were exposed to the bug, along with more than six million users, where randomly extracted data was spread over the web.

Cloudflare insists that only 3,000 of its customers were affected by the bug and only those who have certain HTML and settings on their websites were infected.

The way the data was disseminated was by the bug randomly exposing sensitive information such as passwords and other personal details into the coding of other websites.

Luckily for Cloudflare, their system only posted the information onto low-key websites, and would have been hard to find within the coding unless you are a computer genius.

However, security experts say that the breach in one of the leading providers of security services for online platforms could be catastrophic for the US-based company.

In fact, this recent bug is of great concern because some of the leaked data included “sensitive cookies, login credentials, API keys, and other important authentication tokens, including some of Cloudflare’s own internal cryptography keys”. The data was also being recorded in caches by search engines like Google, Bing and other systems.

Some of the leaked data included “sensitive cookies, login credentials, API keys, and other important authentication tokens”

Reports suggest that there was an immediate “online treasure hunt” by hackers and identity thieves to find the leaked information. However, Cloudflare claim that they managed to fix the bug within just one hour and eliminated most traces of the leak within seven hours.

John Graham-Cumming, Cloudflare’s CTO, explained that the leak did not expose the transport layer security keys used in HTTPS encryption, but it does seem to have potentially compromised data protected in HTTPS connections.

According to medium.com, the best way to avoid any concern is to change every password for every online account or ones saved within your cloud that could be exposed to the internet.

This certainly does throw up the bold notion of whether internet-based infrastructures are ever completely safe from bugs or hacks. If one of the world’s leading online security firms can leak sensitive information when they are paid to protect others, then surely any online source is penetrable.

Cloudflare are now offering an even “stronger and more resourced security protection than before”, so let’s see if that does the trick in protecting millions of websites from security breaches.

United States Pollution Problems — How Clean is Clean?

As a nation, we’ve come a long way from the days of rivers catching fire and the blackened skies of Titusville. By almost any measure of the environment, America is now cleaner and greener than ever. There are local anomalies and short-term aberrations that are numbered among United States pollution problems but, on the whole, we have been moving in the right direction of producing a cleaner, healthier, safer environment. Oren Cass from the Manhattan Institute claims we’ve made big gains in environmental health, gains we don’t want to give back. Is it worth it to become even cleaner?

In the accompanying video, part of our Bold Interviews series, Mr. Oren Cass of the Manhattan Institute makes the case that we may have hit an inflection point in our ongoing efforts to create a cleaner environment. He suggests that we have arrived at the point of diminishing returns. Early efforts yielded large and tangible results quickly. However, at this point under our system of constant improvement, the yields are becoming smaller and barely noticeable while the costs grow with every generation of technology.

In Detail: Oren Cass’ Bold Suggestion

Mr. Cass claims that, in the United States, we have a relatively clean and healthy environment. At the current state of technological progress, there are few gains to be had at a reasonable cost, and increasing stringency is becoming a real burden on businesses that seek to upgrade or expand their facilities.

His bold suggestion is to take a hiatus in the march to ever tighter restrictions and work within the current existing framework. In other words, we won’t let companies pollute more than they do now—thus, adding more to the list of United States pollution problems—, we can lock in the extraordinary gains that have been made. However, companies seeking to expand and grow would not have to build ‘greener’ than their current facility.

On United States Pollution Problems: How Clean is the Environment in the Country?

a portrait photo of Oren Cass amid discussions on United States pollution problems
Oren Cass – Manhattan Institute

Cass may have a point—take air quality for example. If we look back to air quality metrics in 1970, there is no doubt that air pollution has decreased dramatically and significantly. According to the EPA, aggregate emissions in 2015 were 71 percent lower than in 1970. And this came during a time when GDP increased by nearly 250 percent, vehicle miles traveled almost doubled, and the population increased by 57 percent.

Against this measure of economic growth and population increase, an absolute reduction in air pollution is a remarkable achievement. While there are pockets of the country where local issues persist, we have, as a nation, achieved cleaner, healthier air without sacrificing economic well-being.

Water quality is another marker of a healthy environment. In this area, the results are mixed, largely because water is more localized. Unlike air, which travels freely, water becomes trapped in isolated watersheds for an extended period of time. One industry can pollute a single river in one watershed, while 15 miles over the ridge the water may be pristine. This case makes it more difficult to assess progress on water cleanliness and health consequences.

On United States Pollution Problems in the Past

However, there is no doubt that urban rivers and ports are vastly cleaner than in 1970. The days of burning rivers are a thing of the past. Ships no longer freely dump and offload waste directly into coastal waters. Factories and cities must treat water before it is released back into the environment. These programs have greatly improved the quality and cleanliness of the water. There was a time when ports and urban rivers were so polluted that they were avoided. Today these areas are prime real estate for living and recreation.

The challenge for water quality has come in rural areas, primarily from the agricultural industry in the form of nitrogen. Intensive farming and livestock husbandry, particularly in the Mississippi and Chesapeake watersheds, has led to water quality problems. Agriculture has been less regulated in terms of emissions than factories—partly because factories and industry were regarded as the greater threat. But, areas that have extensive large scale farming operations have shown little improvement in nitrogen pollution, while urban watersheds have become cleaner.

a graph showing US Emissions amid discussions on United States pollution problems

Perhaps a Regulatory Pause is in Order

Mr. Cass’ idea to ratchet down the regulatory pressure is intriguing. Perhaps the time has come to rest upon our success in achieving cleaner air and water. There is no denying that the United States pollution problems have been lessened—thus making great progress on the environmental pollution front. If we simply pause and allow industry to catch up and adapt to the current regulations, it could well be a boon to the economy and living standards. Indeed, we can encourage growth without a net loss to environmental quality.