Thursday, January 17, 2013

Monday, November 19, 2012

The REAL Shoe Game

Specifically for students of the strategy capstone, here's a fascinating read on the rise and fall of Adidas and Puma athletic shoes.  As the saying goes, truth is often stranger than fiction!

What if renewable energy reduced our cost per unit?

Right now the debate on renewables in the United States is more of a when, than if, debate.  But when is always some day in the future.  Eventually the cost per unit of renewables will be lower than the cost per unit of fossil fuels.  But, we're not there yet.

Or have we just chosen not to go there yet?

Renewable Energy in Germany

Germany, as true with other parts of Europe, has been far more aggressive than the United States at pursuing renewable energy.  How well has their program gone?  Well enough that they are experiencing problems we haven't begun to fathom.  Consider this article from Der Spiegel which contains this interesting quote:

At least renewable energy sources have led to the price of electricity coming down on the markets, because they have displaced expensive conventional power plants.

In other words, Germany has passed the tipping point with renewables.  Their wind and solar now comes in at a lower per unit cost than their natural gas, coal and nuclear power.  

Interestingly, this economic push away from non renewables increases the salience of maintaining at least some traditional power creation.  Consider, for instance:

SPIEGEL: What do you propose?
Kohler: We have to make sure that operating power plants remains economically attractive. Nowadays, solar systems are often in operation around noon, when there is high demand for power and the price was high in the past. As a result, conventional power plants can no longer make enough money, which is why existing plants are being shut down and no new ones are being built. Anyone who guarantees the security of supply in the future has to be paid for it, even if his power plant is only needed at certain times.
SPIEGEL: Some receive subsidies for supplying green energy, while others are paid so that they'll be available in case it rains or the wind doesn't blow. It doesn't sound very market-based.
Kohler: It can indeed be organized in a market-based way throughout Europe by using so-called capacity markets. But that doesn't do any good. We have to synchronize the addition of more solar and wind energy systems with an expansion of the overall system, or the energy revolution will be a failure.

The remainder of the interview is a recommended read.  Germany, per this article, confronts two issues with renewable energy.  These are the natural asynchronicities of the timing and geography of supply and demand.  These are non trivial issues which  are certainly a necessity of a renewable based energy system.

While their problem is one we won't see for some time, we certainly would benefit from observing their approach to the problem as well as its solution.  What is more important, though, is realization that the challenge for renewable energy - at least in Germany - is not that "it's too expensive."

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Cool Stuff

One of the neat things about strategy is that it requires a forward orientation.  You need to keep your eyes on the horizon in order to anticipate emerging threats and opportunities. A side effect of this scanning behavior is that you learn about simply neat things coming out.  After discussing a few of these with students after our most recent class meeting, I decided to put together a post about some of the new tech gadgets I find most interesting:

Tesla Model S

The new Tesla has the distinction of being the first non-combustion engine car to win Motor Trend's car of the year award.  This isn't the Tesla sport coup, this is the 4-door Sedan.  It has a large comfortable cabin while maintaining surprising energy efficiency.  At a base price of $49,900 ranging up near $100,000 fully loaded, this isn't a car that will sit in everyone's driveway.  On the other hand, this car lands nicely in the price range of upscale sedans, indicating that the electric car can compete on price in that segment.  Tesla only plans on selling 3000 or so units this year (already sold out) and expect to move that closer to 20,000 units in 2013.

Source: Car and Driver

Phillips Hue: Lightbulbs go WiFi

Phillips launched Hue back in October and they are a bit pricey for now.  A $300 or so starter package brings you three lightbulbs and the network connection.  After that, the bulbs run around $60 each.  This is an LED lighting system, so expect the bulbs to last for years.  That's not enough to justify the price though, what makes Hue really interesting are the WiFi applications and the possibilities with "smart" light bulbs.  Some of the things you can do with Hue include:

  • Remote management of lighting
  • Pre-lighting a room for wake up or dimming a room for falling asleep
  • Changing the colors of the lighting in your room

Google Glass

Time Magazine recently listed Glass as one of the best innovations of 2012.  Glass is Google's attempt to bring augmented reality to your daily life.  Glass will become commercially available by 2014 with expected prices around $1400.  If I understand correctly, Glass will be available sometime next year for those who pre-ordered the technology.  Don't go looking though, that pre-order sold out pretty fast.

Google Glass is kind of a Star Trek bit of tech, it's a visor (pair of glasses) that projects computer information in front of you, allowing you to see the real world and a computer screen simultaneously.  It uses an embedded camera to read the world around you and follows voice activation commands.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

The Driverless Car

You can find an interesting discussion of driverless automobiles at the Conversable Economist.  The technology has been around for a while and seems to be making rapid progress.  Dr. Taylor's article is insightful and provides a number of relevant links for those interested in learning more.

Monday, October 8, 2012

University of Washington students charged with patent infringement

This is an interesting, and evolving case, between an entrepreneurial start-up "JoeyBra" and the holder of a 1999 design patent.  The defendants are two students at the University of Washington school of business - defending a start up company that recently placed as a finalist in the UW business plan competition.

The primary parts worth reading involve the distinction between patenting and innovating (bringing to market). Additionally, some of the commentary brings up distinctions between design and utility patents.

This comes on the heels of discussion that Apple and Google now spend more on patent defense (and offense) than on research and development.