In a move that has infuriated China, the US government has decided to extend and raise tariffs on Chinese solar equipment, with some rates reaching as high as 35.2%. The government raised the tariffs after receiving a complaint from a domestic manufacturer that Chinese makers were finding ways to skirt the current import regime through complex offshore manufacturing arrangements which circumvented the rules through a technicality. However, the new tariffs will be more comprehensive, and are being seen as a move to protect the US’ domestic solar industry. China has reacted strongly, saying the US move smacks of protectionism, and that the tariff “would not solve the development problems of the US solar industry”. Domestic manufacturers have called the tariffs “a strong win for the US solar industry”, but even some in the US say it will hurt the sector, as the raised costs come at a time when solar was just starting to compete with fossil fuels in price.
FINSUM: The cold war of trade is heating up between the US and China, as the two countries battle each other economically on many fronts. The move will certainly protect US manufacturing, but it is a legitimate concern that it may hurt growth in the solar market by raising costs versus other energy alternatives.
A new technology is beginning to disrupt an age-old industry across the United States. For the first time, big data is having a large effect on the agricultural industry by arming farmers with knowledge of how best to plant their fields. Monsanto is debuting a new technology, which they acquired as part of a $1 bn acquisition, which has a digital map and soil samples combined with trillions of data points on weather, in order to help farmers maximise their crop output. The technology can even be integrated into planting machines, meaning a GPS-driven device can roll around a field itself and plant seeds at the exact depth and angle that the database indicates will maximise yield. Farmers who have trialed the technology are averaging gains of 5%. However, the new technology has started a fight over farm data and who owns it. Legally, the farmers own the data, but companies currently control it and are profiting from it—something the farmers want limited.
FINSUM: This is a major development in the agricultural industry and highlights the immense propensity for big data to transform industry, even those as old as agriculture.
In order to spread internet access to areas currently excluded from coverage, Google is planning to spend $1 bn or more to launch a fleet of 180 “small, high capacity” satellites. The satellites would offer an internet connection to millions of people who currently have little or no ground or cellular access to the web. Google is also working on a plan to deliver internet through high-altitude balloons. Google and other major tech companies, like Facebook, believe investing in providing internet to new markets will ultimately prove a wise investment as the growth in access will likely lead to an uptick in revenues. Many are skeptical of the plans, as the corporate landscape is littered with now defunct companies and initiatives which sought to drum up business with satellites. Some are predicting that Google will overrun its budget dramatically, with costs soaring to as much as $20 bn. The company will also have to overcome some major regulatory hurdles before launching the satellites.
FINSUM: In principle this seems both a noble and potentially profitable plan. However, the complications appear vast and complex, though if it works, it will be an unprecedented step towards a truly global internet.