Surprise! The Chinese have a hinky economic system.
The reason for the sarcasm is that a US government investigation into the Chinese solar panel industry has found evidence that Chinese manufacturers are selling solar panels for less than the cost to make them, which really hurts their competitors (and them, but they’re getting free money from the Chinese government, so they’re doing well at the moment). This shouldn’t be much of a surprise to anyone.
For over a decade now, the Chinese government has been making money easily accessible to Chinese manufacturers in the form of low-interest loans. This has provided many jobs and sparked the Chinese economy into a huge boom, but it’s also allowed the companies to become bloated and inefficient (after all, why bother with efficiency when you can just take out another loan?). The loans have become essentially free since the Great Recession started, which has made the bloat grow even faster. This is, if you’re curious, the same situation that Japan was in in the late 80s, just before it fell into its current multi-decade stagnation.
So, yeah. Not at all surprised that the same thing’s been going on in the solar industry over there. The only question is what the US (and others) are going to do about it. This situation leaves China’s competitors with three bad choices: either take advantage of the artificially cheap goods for sale (driving their own solar industries out of business), subsidize their solar industries (which would cost a lot of money), or slap import tariffs on Chinese solar panels, which would very likely start a trade war. There aren’t really any good responses to this, the way I see it.
China has said that it will take another (small) step towards controlling its GHG emissions. This is supposed to be an actual cap on emissions in seven provinces and cities, not just an intensity target or an emissions permit trading scheme. Whether the, um, flexible nature of China’s local governments will actually produce meaningful results, we’ll have to wait and see.
Damn it. The Chinese are doing it again. Not content with almost driving Rhinos to extinction, they’re now going after large ray species. Apparently, the gill strainers of manta and mobula rays have become a vital ingredient in some Chinese folk medicines. You can guess what’s happened to their populations in the wild.
The Pentagon is not happy about how easy it is to crack/infect/hack the systems of the various security agencies in the US. And to give you an excellent example of why, there’s the news that Chinese hackers have found another way to get into the Pentagon’s system and steal information, this time using smart-cards.
Constructing buildings is a time-consuming affair, usually. But a Chinese construction company has put together a 30-story hotel in under 15 days using pre-fabricated parts. I’ve seen a number of other concepts and businesses that use pre-fabricated sections to construct houses and office buildings in remarkably short periods of time, and with considerably less labor costs. Will the efficiencies offered by prefabrication of buildings change how we build structures? Or are the traditional methods going to maintain an economic advantage? I’ll keep an eye out for more stories on the subject.
Ah, CES. What wonders it holds each year. And what a deluge of news stories. Which I have sifted through and picked out what I think will actually matter. Read on…
- A new survey says that only 48% of consumers were watching cable TV in 2011, down from 71% in 2009. I wonder if we’re going to see the TV turn into a peripheral for the internet and mobile devices, rather than being the central media device?
- We’re used to touchscreens by now, but what about touch-sensitive clothing or upholstery?
- Touchscreens are coming to the kitchen, now, too: A touchscreen is the controller for an induction stove, which can selectively heat whatever is on its surface, wherever it’s placed.
- Liquipel is a new waterproof coating for the innards of your electronics; we may be looking at the beginning of widespread waterproofing of anything and everything electronic. [Update, 1/11: Here’s another brand that’s looking to do the same thing.]
- You’re at a conference (say, CES) and your cell is about to die. You don’t want to be tied to a wall socket waiting for it to recharge, so what do you do? Plug it into your backpack. The Powerbag is a backpack with a battery built in, which can charge your electronics while you’re on the go. And they thoughtfully provided some attending reporters with some, just to make sure that we heard about it.
- Somebody’s finally built a couple of wall sockets with built-in USB plugs. All I have to say is, it’s about time.
- 3D printing is trying to make a move into the home market – for reals, this time – and the Cube and MakerBot’s new two-color printer called the Replicator are the contenders that I’ve seen in the coverage of CES today.
- Sheesh, talk about a wonder-material. Scientists have found another use for graphene. Again! This time they’ve tinkered with the isotope make-up of the material, which creates a form of the stuff that’s apparently very good at dissipating heat. So now, even if we can’t figure out a way to make graphene computer chips, we’ll be able to use graphene to keep our old-fashioned silicon chips cool.
- Scientists have recreated the white, fungus-filled layer that coats some types of cheese. Why am I talking about fungus and cheese, you ask? Because the layer that they’ve created could be used to keep a surface permanently clean – it eats organic material (like bacteria) that falls onto it, and it can theoretically live forever as long as there’s enough moisture in the air.
- The Marines are looking for a new brain/control-system for their robots – something that doesn’t need its hand held going from one place to another, and that can be plugged into multiple different platforms.
- And speaking of military robots… The US military’s airfleet is now 1/3 UAVs. I repeat: one third of all aircraft in the US military is now unmanned. Mind you, this includes the itty-bitty ones that are launched by hand, but that’s still an… interesting milestone, considering that the number was 5% in 2005. I wonder when it’ll become 50%? or 90%?
- Is NASA thinking of sending another lander to Venus? It’s not a particularly hospitable environment, what with a temperature around 1000*F, massive air pressure and a choking atmosphere. Still, NASA’s building a hell-on-Earth simulator for wannabe Venusian probes, so they seem to be considering the possibility…
- One of the things that I’m going to be keeping an eye on this year is the legal status of civilian drone use. The reason I bring this up is that Sea Shepherd (the vigilante anti-whaling group) has received permission from the Australian government to use drones to track the Japanese whaling fleet.
- Speaking of civvie surveillance drones… here are some toy versions for making mischief.
- And, lest we forget, there are certain improvements that have to be made for drones to work in busy airspaces and around cities. Like avoiding other aircraft and knowing what spots are safe for an emergency landing.
- Smart traffic lights – they’re a dream for planners and commuters, and a nightmare for people who deal with them when they glitch. Still, maybe if they have something that tells them what’s at the intersection, that’ll help a little.
- A new pathway for cybercrime (and possibly assassination): hacking your car. Seriously, if you hook a car up to the internet, this will happen. Who, when, where, why, and how aren’t possible to determine, but it will happen. Really doesn’t make me look forward to buying my next car…
- Sleeves that track your arm movements, another way for people and companies to improve productivity.
- Connect your home appliances, thermostat, power and water supply, etc, to a single electrical monitoring system, which you can access and control via the internet. This is a smart home, and we’re likely to see more and better in the coming decade or two.
- Oh hey, I was talking about the US military’s budget plans yesterday, and here they are in the news: Wired and DefenseTech have articles on Obama’s and Panetta’s plans for the military. They were also on the network news quite a bit, too.
- There’s been some chatter on the blogosphere about the USAF X-37B spaceplane spying on China’s space station/lab. Not sure if it’s legit concerns or just a bit of noise that lacks real substance.