Tag Archives: Business

Production of Solar Panels Outpaced Investments Last Year

Worldwide photovoltaic  (PV) solar panel production rose 10 percent in 2012 despite a 9 percent drop in investment, reports the European Commission (pdf). The numbers are imprecise, because solar panel makers use different types of production and sales figures, but the Commission authors estimate that producers added between 35 GW and 42 GW of PV capacity in 2012. The growth follows several years in which European governments have trimmed subsidies to solar power, prompting many private investors to shy away from the sector and driving some companies to bankruptcy.

Something about solar is special, though: investment in PV capacity still made up over half (57.7 percent) of new renewable energy investments, for a total of $137.7 billion, and analysts predict further growth through 2015.

Read the rest of this blog post at IEEE Spectrum’s Energywise blog: [html] [pdf]

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Head Up Displays Go Down Market

91113PioneerHUD-1378926860093Heads Up Displays (HUDs), once the domain of fighter pilots and luxury car drivers, now come in a clip-on variety affordable to a much wider market. The systems project information on to a see-through screen to help keep their users’ attention outside the vehicle. But until now, such clarity of mind never came cheap: BMW charges over US $1000 for its built-in HUD system.

At this week’s Frankfurt Motor Show in Germany, several cheaper alternatives were on offer. Car accessory maker Pioneer showed off its NavGate HUD, which it will sell in Europe starting in October. The HUD uses Texas Instruments’ DLP projector instead of the more expensive laser found in a Japanese-market predecessor. That move shaves a few hundred dollars off its cost, but it still comes through at €699, or $927. Navigation system maker Garmin last month announced a dashboard-mounted HUD display for $150.

Unlike built-in HUDs systems, these after-market versions require drivers to provide a smartphone and to download separate applications (an additional $50 in Garmin’s case). But the ubiquity of smartphones is helping accessory makers to nip at the heels of car manufacturers in yet another product range. And for the DIYers, there’s always Lifehacker.

Read the rest of this blog post at IEEE Spectrum’s Tech Talk: [html] [pdf]

Bit loans

WANT to get some cash at automated teller machines in Nairobi? Don’t be surprised by the guards with machine guns. ATMs attract plenty of muggers and pickpockets.

Unsurprisingly, cashless transactions have been catching on fast in Nairobi and elsewhere in Africa. Microfinance organisations were among the pioneers. In Kenya, for instance, they started using M-PESA, the popular mobile money service, to hand out loans to small-time businesspeople in 2008, soon after its launch.

Musoni, a Kenyan microfinance firm with more than 10,000 customers and over $6.3m in loans since its launch in May 2010, is now taking the idea even further: in an effort to bypass banks and make microfinance more efficient, it has gone completely cashless—a worldwide first, claims Cameron Goldie-Scot, the firm’s chief operating officer.

Read the rest of this story at The Economist’s Schumpeter blog: [html] [pdf]

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Grant applications: Find me the money

The e-mails were arriving in Pete Kissinger’s inbox almost every day: “TODAY ONLY: Extra 25% Off … Craft your R01 Grants Management … Only 1 Day Left.” They were from consultants trying to charge him to do something that scientists have long done for themselves: search for research-grant opportunities, write proposals and, in some cases, manage the grant once it has been won. Eventually, Kissinger’s curiosity got the better of him.

Having founded his first company in the 1970s, Kissinger, an entrepreneur and bioanalytical chemist who works part-time at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana, is no stranger to the challenges of raising start-up capital and research money. But he says that it is harder to get funding now than when he began. For one thing, the paperwork is more onerous. “And that’s not really the thing most of us in science enjoy doing,” he says. So about 18 months ago, when he needed money to develop a device for sampling blood to speed up clinical diagnoses, Kissinger hired FreeMind, a funding consultancy with offices in Boston, Massachusetts, and in Jerusalem. He is waiting for decisions on two applications that he made last year with their help, and on another that was put together in March.

Types of funding finder range from services offering online information packs that cost a few hundred dollars to consulting firms such as FreeMind, which can charge up to 10% of the grant total. In return, they offer familiarity with the applications process and established relationships with the programme officers and businesses that are offering the funds. Nothing stops a scientist from going directly to the US National Science Foundation for funding information, notes Ram May-Ron, vice-president of FreeMind. “We don’t claim to have any special powers, but we have lots of experience.”

Consultants say that they can help to highlight and emphasize the aspects of a proposal that increase the chances of funding. “It’s not just about how you raise money, it’s about how to direct what you’re doing in a fashion that will extract the social, medical and financial value of it,” says Mark Goldstein, chief scientific officer of MammaCare, a medical-device firm based in Gainesville, Florida. Goldstein has worked with Kirk Macolini, a funding finder at Centurion Technologies in Ithaca, New York, for more than 10 years.

Making the most of that help means knowing when to seek assistance, whom to ask for it and how to work well with a consultant.

Read the rest of this feature at Nature Careers: [html] [pdf]