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If Elon Musk’s vision of millions of households producing all their own power becomes a reality, it will probably happen first in Germany. But he will face a battle for market share against local firms with years of experience in renewable energy.

The South African-born entrepreneur’s company Tesla, best known for its electric cars, sparked global interest in the idea of self-powered homes in April, when it said it would start selling lithium-ion batteries for households next year.

The batteries, called Powerwalls, connect to solar panels on the roof of a house and aim to store enough power during the day to drive kettles and washing machines at night, raising the prospect that households one day will be able to rely fully on clean energy and become independent of the power grid.

There are big challenges.

The technology does not yet allow most users to disconnect from the grid – the German solar industry association BSW estimates batteries currently raise solar power self-sufficiency to at least 60 percent.

Then there is the price. Buying and installing solar panels and batteries costs around EUR 10,000 ($10,600 or roughly Rs. 70,95,000) or more.

But the technology is improving, and costs falling, and some analysts think Germany – with more solar panels than anywhere in the world and sky-high power prices – could become the industry’s first mass-market.

“The business model of power batteries is becoming increasingly attractive,” said Norbert Schwieters, global utilities leader at consultants PwC, noting market estimates that sales in Germany could reach half a million within a decade, up from around 25,000 now.

“Lifestyle gadget”
If the market does take off, Musk will have a fight on his hands against German companies with established retail networks and years of experience managing solar equipment.

While acknowledging Musk’s slick marketing – Powerwalls are made at his “Gigafactory” in the Nevada Desert – some of these rivals think he has created a buzz around home power storage batteries that will ultimately work in their favour.

“Tesla has made sure that they’re seen as a lifestyle gadget,” said Volker Wachenfeld, in charge of hybrid energy and storage solutions at SMA Solar.

SMA Solar is one of a number of German companies with ambitions in the market, including Sonnenbatterie, SENEC.IES and Varta. Daimler Accumotive is also due to launch a product, while Solarwatt, owned by major BMW shareholder Stefan Quandt, says it is ready to join the fray.

Sonnenbatterie, whose backers include Germany’s E-Capital and Czech firm Inven Capital, has already sold around 8,500 batteries in Europe, mostly in Germany, but its ambitions go further.

“The biggest challenge of our generation is the move to renewable and inexpensive energy supply,” said its 32-year-old managing director, Philipp Schroeder. “I started this vision and now want to take it to global success.”

Schroeder knows Tesla well – he worked there until earlier this year, leading its German and Austrian operations with a brief to roll out a network of charging points for Tesla cars in Germany. He jumped ship for his old employer Sonnenbatterie just as Tesla was gearing up for its European home-battery push.

Tesla, which has made Germany one of its three launch markets for Powerwalls, is ready for a fight, however. It has struck partnerships with German companies Beegy and LichtBlick in order to benefit from local expertise.

“Tesla is working with leading German and international solar PV (photovoltaic) distributors and installers to offer complete solar PV solutions including PV panels, a solar PV inverter, and installation,” it said.

Is the price right?
With the second-highest retail power costs in Europe, partly the result of the government’s break-neck push into renewables, Germany’s economy stands to gain massively if it can take a chunk of its back-up grid capacity offline.

Germany boasts about 39 gigawatts (GW) of installed solar capacity, bringing its total capacity to nearly 200 GW, more than twice the level it theoretically needs.

Vast amounts of costly back-up power are required to kick in when the sun doesn’t shine. If homes, offices and factories can store their solar power, many of the country’s power stations can be scrapped and transmission systems do not have to be extended at billions of euros of cost.

Incentives for solar power producers to feed surplus supplies into the national grid are set to end in 2021, providing a reason for them to store more power themselves.

“First it was technology aficionados, today it is a broad number of home owners,” Herbert Schein, CEO of Varta Microbattery, said of the growing interest in power batteries.

Schein estimates sales at Varta’s energy storage unit have doubled this year. “In the future we will add small companies and farmers,” he said.

Battery systems of various suppliers may differ, but costs overall have fallen and lithium-ion battery packs are the norm, having pushed aside lead batteries.

With a slim, curved appearance and made to be wall-mounted, Tesla’s Powerwall is designed to appeal to style-conscious consumers who agree with co-founder and CEO Musk’s statement that traditional batteries “suck”.

The batteries offered by most German providers can be placed in basements, common in German homes, and take up no more space than a small refrigerator. Smaller batteries can be wall-mounted too.

The batteries start selling at about 1,000 euros per kilowatt peak (kWp) – the level at which experts say the technology makes economic sense for buyers – with an average four-person household usually needing a 5 kWp system.

Tesla says the 7 kWp Powerwall will cost 3,615 euros wholesale, including value added tax.

Sonnenbatterie this week announced a 3,599 euro small battery – a discounted price available if the buyer joins the company’s SonnenCommunity scheme. It offers a full home solar power and storage system at EUR 9,000-13,000.

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Toshiba Corp said on Friday it was considering splitting off part of its chip business, with listing it an option, in a move that would help it raise capital needed to fund restructuring following a $1.3 billion accounting scandal.

Toshiba is in urgent need of restructuring after profit-padding revealed a number unprofitable businesses. It agreed in October to sell its image sensor business to Sony Corp.

The accounting scandal rendered Toshiba on the Tokyo Stock Exchange’s so-called watch list, meaning the conglomerate is almost unable to raise funds by selling shares or bonds, to bolster capital which could be depleted by restructuring.

“We would consider selling every asset that is possible to sell,” Chief Executive Masashi Muromachi said at an analyst briefing.

He also said NAND flash memory chips comprised a core part of Toshiba’s business and would not be sold.

That effectively leaves system LSI and discrete chips as options to be split off.

Toshiba earlier this month reported a second-quarter operating loss and said it has sued five former executives, including three former chief executive officers, over their roles in a $1.3 billion (roughly Rs. 8,683 crores) accounting scandal.

The laptops-to-nuclear power conglomerate posted an operating loss of JPY 79.5 billion ($645.66 million or roughly Rs. 4,320 crores) in the July-September second half of the current fiscal year that began in April. That compared with a JPY 90.2 billion profit a year earlier.

The dismal results mainly reflect sluggish sales of home appliances and a writedown for the point-of-sale information system business.

Toshiba also said it is seeking damages from the five former executives for mismanagement. A panel set up by Toshiba found previous CEO Hisao Tanaka and his two predecessors had played a part in the overstatement of profits.

They have denied any involvement.

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What drives you to keep posting your “good times” pictures on Facebook? Envy is a key motivator behind such posts and that contributes to a decrease in mental well-being among users, says a new study.

“Creating a vicious cycle of jealousy and self-importance, Facebook leads users to feel their lives are unfulfilling by comparison, and react by creating posts that portray their best selves,” said lead researcher professor Izak Benbasat from University of British Columbia, Canada.

Social media participation has been linked to depression, anxiety and narcissistic behaviour, but the reasons have not been well explained.

“We found envy to be the missing link,” Benbasat said.

According to Benbasat, travel photos are a leading contributor to Facebook envy, pushing friends to post their most perfect pictures.

He says the unrealistic portrayal of life is not motivated by the desire to make others jealous, but rather a need to compete and keep up appearances.

For the study, Benbasat and his co-authors surveyed 1,193 Facebook users at a German university.

Benbasat said the functionality of social networks encourages envy-inducing behaviour, and that’s unlikely to change.

“Sharing pictures and stories about the highlights of your life – that’s so much of what Facebook is for, so you can’t take that away,” he said.

“But I think it’s important for people to know what impact it can have on their well-being,” he warned.

The study was published in the journal Information Systems Research.

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Google’s second-generation Glass wearable could be more compact and sleek than the original wearable model. A patent the company was granted this week reveals the schematic diagram of what appears to be the rumoured second-generation Google Glass.

The company may have plans to introduce major changes to the second-generation Glass, it appears. The patent document reveals that the body of the wearable gadget could support touch input, though exactly how the interaction will work is not known as of now.

“The band can define an interior cavity having an interior surface, and circulatory related to the touch-sensitive surface can be displayed within the cavity adjacent to the interior surface. The circuitry can include touch-based input circuitry that is flexible in at least one direction,” the document reads. Notably, the patent, granted in November, was applied for back in September 2012, and thus Google may very well have changed its plans since.

A report earlier this month said that Google is working on as many as three Glass variants. One of those Google Glass variants was said to be enterprise-focused, while another was pegged to have no display at all.

As per the report, Google was aiming for the launch of its second-generation Google Glass for 2016. The report said that the company could scrap one of the Google Glass variants and only launch two versions.

The first generation of the Google Glass was released in limited quantities, and its production was stopped by the company early this year, making many people wonder if the project had been cancelled altogether. But the team behind Google Glass, called Project Aura, which is spearheaded by Nest co-founder and chief executive Tony Fadell, insisted that it had just “entered a new phase.”

With the wearable space slowly becoming mature, and giants such as Microsoft and Asus working on augmented reality devices, Google would want to stay a frontrunner in the emerging space.

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Mozilla, a non-profit organisation, says that it no longer needs Google’s money to sustain itself in the market. The Firefox maker announced that it is confident that the recent search-engine deals it has inked with other Internet companies can bring in enough money for it to function.

For years, Mozilla has heavily relied on its search-engine partnership with Google for financial strength. In 2012 and 2013, for instance, 90 percent of its income came from Google. The company this week released its financial results for 2014, in which it noted $330 million in revenue, a 5 percent increase year-on-year. In 2014, 90 percent of its revenue came from Google and Yahoo.

As part of its partnership with Google, Mozilla’s Firefox uses Google as the default search engine. But things changed last year when the two companies discontinued the deal in several regions of the world. For 2015, Mozilla partnered with Yahoo to show its features in Firefox in the United States. It partnered with Baidu and Yandex for similar partnerships in China and Russia respectively. In Europe, Firefox still uses Google as the default search engine, though it insists that it doesn’t profit from the arrangement.

“We don’t have a commercial relationship with Google at this point,” Denelle Dixon-Thayer, Mozilla’s chief business and legal officer told Cnet. While she admits that the company could have continued its relationship with Google, Mozilla CFO said that they are confident for the financial result for 2015. “We really look forward to displaying our results next year. 2015 will show our continued track record of really strong financial results.”

With no reliance on Google for financial stability, Mozilla will be able to stay open, and put more energy on boosting its mobile efforts. The company recently released Firefox for iOS to all users. The company also released a preview of its operating system as a launcher for Android handsets.

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Samsung has been for a while rumoured to be working on the second-generation Galaxy A-series of smartphones, a series likely to include the Samsung Galaxy A3 (2016), Samsung Galaxy A5 (2016), and Samsung Galaxy A7 (2016) – that have leaked on multiple occasions in the recent weeks.

Now, the Samsung Galaxy A5 (2016) has been purportedly been spotted in a user agent profile on the company’s website sporting model number SM-A510M.

First spotted by a Hungarian site, the rumoured Galaxy A5 (2016) is seen sporting a HD (720×1080 pixels) resolution screen with no word on the display size and packs an ARMv11 64-bit processor clocked at 1.5GHz. Further, the UA profile listing of the Samsung Galaxy A5 (2016) suggests 16GB of storage. There’s no word on any other specifications of the Galaxy A5.

Based on preliminary leaks, the Galaxy A5 (2016) has been leaked so far running Android 5.1.1 Lollipop and featuring a 5.2-inch full-HD display. It is said to come with an octa-core Samsung Exynos 7 processor clocked at 1.6GHz, clubbed with ARM Mali-T720 and 2GB RAM. Other innards include 16GB of inbuilt storage; a 12-megapixel rear camera with LED flash, and a 4.7-megapixel front-facing camera.

Samsung on Thursday made its Galaxy A9 smartphone official on the company’s Iran website. The listing page gave details on its specifications and the launch date – December 1; although the price was not revealed.

As per the listing, the Samsung Galaxy A9 or the SM-A900F would launch in three colours – Gold, Black, and White – and will support Dual-SIM (Nano) functionality. For specifications, it features a 5.5-inch full-HD (1080×1920 pixels) resolution Super Amoled display with pixel density of 401ppi; an octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 620 (MSM8976) processor with four Cortex-A72 cores clocked at 1.8GHz and four Cortex-A53 cores clocked at 1.4GHz; 3GB RAM; Android 5.1.1 Lollipop; 16-megapixel autofocus rear camera with LED flash; a 5-megapixel front-facing camera; 32GB of inbuilt storage; further expandable via microSD card (up to 128GB), and 4G LTE support.

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With Microsoft curtailing some of its free and paid OneDrive storage tiers, Amazon has come to the rescue. The company is running limited-time unlimited Cloud Drive storage deals. It is offering unlimited storage valid for a year for a sum of $5 (roughly Rs. 320), and unlimited photos storage for a sum of $1.

The announcement comes on the sidelines of Black Friday, the day regarded as the beginning of the Christmas shopping season. Amazon normally offers 5GB of limited Cloud Drive storage for free. Amazon had not detailed when the limited period deals will end.

With the new deal , users can get unlimited Photo storage for a year at $1 (roughly Rs. 65) – standard price $59.99 (roughly Rs. 4,000) on Amazon, and unlimited Cloud Drive (for all the files you’ve including photos) at a price of $1, which would have otherwise cost you $11.99 (roughly Rs. 800). Amazon Prime users will get both the offers for free, the page reads. The deals are only applicable in the US.

The company is also offering a free 1-year subscription to its Unlimited Everything storage plan to users that purchase qualifying products over $50 (roughly Rs. 3,350) in the Camera, PC, Gaming PC, Video Games, and Kitchen categories.

The limited period deal comes shortly after Microsoft announced earlier this month it is curtailing several of its free and paid OneDrive storage tiers. The company said it is discontinuing the “unlimited” paid storage tier because it has found many users are abusing the deal. It noted that a number of users backed up computers and their entire DVR movie collections to their OneDrive account, exceeding 75TB usage in some cases. As part of the revision, Microsoft also reduced the free storage space from 15GB to 5GB that it gives to all registered users. Some of the changes will come in effect in early 2016.

Earlier this month, Google announced it is happy to reward its Google Maps contributors with free Google Drive storage space.

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Amazon has been focusing on expanding its Prime Instant Video streaming service, enough to stop sales of Google and Apple video-streaming devices via its site back in October. The company’s reported next major step to attract more users to the service is to offer more online video services to subscribers.

According to a report by Bloomberg, Amazon may introduce the new online networks by the end of this year. People with knowledge of the company’s plans were cited to say the company will soon allow subscribers of its Prime Instant Video service choose other on-demand networks. The on-demand content will include movies and TV channels as well as Amazon’s own prepackaged bundles. The people further added that Amazon plans to go official with the new additions next month.

The company is said to add videos from the other on-demand subscription services within Prime. People added that Amazon will include partners’ branding on the videos as well. The company has also plans to manage customer relationships for its partners and may also permit viewers to log-in directly into other streaming subscription services using Amazon’s credentials.

The move is said to intensify the competition with Netflix and Hulu. “Prime Instant Video would resemble something between a cable-TV subscription, though without live programming, and the online array of video offered through devices from Roku, Apple TV or Amazon’s own Fire TV,” added the report.

Amazon’s spokesman Craig Berman declined to comment on the report.

The company back in September allowed viewers on its streaming service to download videos. Subscribers of the $99 annual Prime loyalty program could download shows and movies on its streaming video service to watch offline, or when there is no Internet connection available, for free.

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Technology industry groups are pushing back against calls from law enforcement and intelligence officials to give the government more access to encrypted networks following the Paris terrorist attacks.

Concrete evidence has yet to emerge that the perpetrators of the attacks used encrypted networks to communicate, but officials have warned that terrorists are finding new ways to avoid surveillance. Some say requiring tech companies to design a backdoor in the devices would give law enforcement better access to encrypted communications.

“It is likely that encryption, end-to-end encryption, was used to communicate between those individuals in Belgium, in France and in Syria,” Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr, R-N.C., said last week. “It’s a wake-up call for America and our global partners that globally, we need to begin the debate on what we do on encrypted networks, because it makes us blind to the communications and to the actions of potential adversaries.”

Many tech companies have so far been reluctant to respond publicly to these calls, but a growing number of industry groups are coming out in defense of encryption, and a lobbying coalition called Reform Government Surveillance – representing Google, Apple and other tech leaders – has met with congressional staff and administration officials to discuss encryption policy.

“In the private sector, a lot of companies are already pushing back against” creating a back door, said Brian Finch, a lobbyist for cyber-security companies. “Tech companies are reemphasizing the point that they don’t think the back door is effective or all that useful for law enforcement, and it’ll do more harm than good in the long run.”

Among the industry’s main arguments is that there is no evidence that the Paris attackers communicated via encrypted systems, and if the government forces tech companies to weaken encryption, terrorists would simply start using devices or apps that aren’t subject to US laws.

“Tech industry’s pushback right now is, ‘(Law enforcement), you’re using this opportunistically, to your advantage,’ ” said a lobbyist for major tech companies who spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to protect professional relationships. “There’s no proof that terrorists used encrypted networks. Law enforcement, you missed this, stop trying to blame us.”

On Tuesday, the Software Alliance (BSA) mounted a strong defense of encryption technology, saying it is a critical tool that protects users’ online privacy.

“That is not the case. Encryption – rather than something to be feared – is a valuable tool millions of people rely on every day to secure their online privacy,” the BSA said. “Government should not be pushing for solutions that would make the online environment less secure.”

Two other leading tech industry groups are echoing those sentiments, citing the role of encryption in protecting online banking, transportation security systems and other critical infrastructure, such as hospitals, from potential hackers.

Dean Garfield, the president of the Information Technology Industry Council (ITI), the Washington-based group that represents some of the world’s largest hardware, software, mobile and search companies, said last week that weakening encryption technology “simply does not make sense.”

The Software and Information Industry Association (SIIA), which represents the software and digital content industries, said strong encryption helps boost national security, not threaten it.

“Encryption protects not just government and commercial databases, but critical national infrastructure such as hospitals, airlines and nuclear power stations – exactly the targets terrorists would attempt to hack and destroy,” the group’s senior vice president of public policy, Mark MacCarthy, said last week. “If the US government gained backdoor access to encrypted material, it is possible that other governments and non-government actors would as well, and encryption would become useless.”

Representatives for Apple and Google did not return requests for comment or declined to comment.

Tech policy experts predict a renewed round of congressional hearings and possible legislation after Thanksgiving, but they aren’t convinced that the encryption debate will drastically change. It reached a standstill in October when the White House decided it wouldn’t seek legislation forcing tech companies to decode encrypted data for law enforcement.

Burr and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., the top Democrat on the intelligence panel, have indicated that they want to revisit discussions with tech companies about the government’s access to secure communications, but legislation has yet to be drafted.

“I’m not convinced anything new will come out of it,” said the tech lobbyist. “But it’ll get a fresh look.”

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South Korea’s LG Display said Friday it planned to invest close to $9 billion (roughly Rs. 59,969 crores) in a new plant to produce organic light-emitting diode (Oled) displays, anticipating a surge in demand for the ultra high-definition technology.

Total investment in the plant, to be built in Paju near the border with North Korea, is expected to top KRW 10 trillion (roughly Rs. 58,036 crores), the company said.

Expenditure in the first stage has been set at KRW 1.84 trillion, with production scheduled to begin in the first half of 2018.

LG Display CEO Han Sang-Beom hailed what he called an “historical investment” that would make the plant the “centre of the global Oled industry.”

Oled screens deliver a more vivid picture quality, consume less electricity and promise wider profit margins than the liquid crystal display (LCD) in common use.

LG Display is currently the world’s largest LCD panel producer but has been signalling a major shift to the more advanced Oled technology for some time.

Citing market research firm IHS, the company said the global Oled panel market was forecast to grow to $29.1 billion (roughly Rs. 1,93,900 crores) in 2022 from $8.7 billion last year.

Much of the growth could be fuelled by reports that Apple plans to adopt Oled screens on its iPhone from 2018.

Apple is LG Display’s biggest customer, accounting for about 25 percent of sales.

South Korean rival Samsung Display Co. currently dominates the market for smartphone Oleds, mainly supplying the ultra-thin screens to parent Samsung Electronics Co. and to Chinese smartphone makers.

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