Are online learning platforms hurting colleges?

November 20, 2012 Leave a comment

This is not the first time I introduce the huge success that e-learning platforms as Coursera, Udacity or Venture Lab are achieving. The point is whether colleges already consider these platforms as actual threatens for their business model. I’ve just enrolled in my second course on Udacity. After a warm up with the Web Applications Engineering course, I felt like retaking programming. But this time I had a goal I didn’t bear in mind by the time I was at University: deploying a real (and useful) online website. That’s the reason I’m taking the Design of Computer Programs course right now.

Going back to the point, a few colleges decided to join Coursera as a shift to avoid losing competition from the very beginning. The problem is they can charge nothing for the course, and Coursera had 1.75 million users by October 2012. The whole number were not potential customers, but maybe a certain fraction was. As Coursera states on its website, you will find a course “whether you’re looking to improve your resume, advance your career, or just learn more and expand your knowledge”. Here we are, a real competitor for BSc, MSc and short-term studies.

Coursera website snapshotUdacity website snapshot

From my personal experience with Udacity, I’d point the following as advantages with respect to regular universities:

Flexibility. Classes are conducted by short videos and sorted out by units, so you can set your own pace depending on your time resources and knowledge. In a regular class, the flow depends on different factors that might have an adverse effect on advanced students.

Professors. Some of the most recognized professionals from high-ranked universities as Stanford, Harvard or MIT have joined this non-profit initiative. That means you can learn how to program your own self-driven car from highly motivated people as Sebastian Thrun, Google project’s fellow, or build your first blog with Steve Huffman, Reddit co-founder. This is miles away from the non-motivated, non-real-world professors you will find at Spanish Universities for instance.

Price. It’s free, that is, $0 down. While the US is facing a new financial crisis created by plenty of defaults on student loans (have a look on this NYT report), e-learning arises as a suitable solution for those  with limited resources who are not willing to go into debt, moreover with a scarce of jobs around. Perhaps this explosion might contribute to cut down prices and get a more affordable college education.

What do you think? Are e-learning platforms a real alternative for colleges, or just incidental tools?


Boston start-up school

August 28, 2012 Leave a comment

I often say students are not ready to meet the proffessional market when finishing university due to different reasons: the lack of practical contents, out of date proffesors, non-vocational degrees… The Boston Start-up School came up with the same conclusion, even though American education tends to be considered as a better aproach to the marketplace than the European.

As the article reads, this school offers an intensive 6-weeks course for young people seeking jobs in the city, focusing on marketing, software development, product design, and sales and business development. Moreover, classes are free since different start-ups are providing funds to have an early access to these students.

It’s likely that similar schools arise in other hi-tech cities as San Francisco, New York or Chicago, and might be a nice initiative to be held here in Europe too.

Read the original article on A Start-Up Tries to Prepare Students to Work in Start-Ups

New laws to enforce purchasing renewable energy in Japan

Since the nuclear disaster happened last year in Fukushima almost devastated part of the country, Japan government and population are dealing with new ways to meet their energy necessities. Last Sunday July 1st a new regulation enforces companies to purchase renewable energy at a fixed price.

Initiatives like this might lead Japan to a notable position among the countries which invest most in renewables technologies. While Chinese manufacturers’ are capturing the worldwide market, Japanese policies might arise as a salvation to those American and German companies struggling to survive. The catastrophe has left a sense of insecurity in the population that may let these manufacturers to compete the Chinese by offering high quality products and a wide range of services at higher prices than current utilities assume.

It is an opportunity they can’t overlook, and surely Barack Obama and Angela Merkel have already included this issue in their agendas.

More info about Japan opens solar energy parks on Yahoo News

Solar energy can help to address summer peaks of demand

June 28, 2012 1 comment

One of the highest challenges utilities have to face during the hottest season is a huge increase of electricity demand. Customers all around the country, moreover in southern states as Texas, Arizona or California, turn on their air-condition machines at the same time. Utilities are then forced to supply more energy by means of running plants for a short-time, leading to a more expensive generation cost.

Some California utilities already charge electricity depending on a base/peak basis (Time of Use tariff, see previous posts). Solar energy has demonstrated to be able to reduce the electric generation cost on peak times since solar radiation is higher during these hours. If we also consider PV as a distributed generation system, benefits are even more decisive.

The Brattle Group, an energy consultancy, has analyzed “how prices would have been impacted if solar photovoltaic (PV) systems had been added to the generation mix” in Texas last year. You can consult the whole article on Shows Solar Energy as a Solution in Texas to Help Address Summer Electricity Challenges.

Net-metering participation is increasing sharply

The number of residential and commercial investors who are producing clean energy by means of photovoltaic technologies is growing sharply year after year favored from utilities’ net-metering programs, as depicts the graph below. You can find further figures on the US Energy information blog.

graph of Number of net-metered customers, as described in the article text

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Electric Power Annual

Categories: business, renewables, solar Tags: ,

Some California’s PV figures

California is one of the most promising markets for photovoltaics’ investors due to its sunny days and large feed-in tariffs. In order to understand how it works, Naïm Darghouth, Galen Barbose and Ryan Wiser from the Ernest Orlando Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory wrote an interesting analysis about the “Impact of rate design and net metering on the bill savings from distributed PV for residential customers in California” (full paper here).

Net metering allows customers to reduce their electric bill by offsetting their consumption with PV generation, independently of the timing of generation and consumption. The two larger utilities, Pacific Gas and Electric and Southern California Edison, bill the energy consumption by means of two different tariffs, an inclining block rate with five usage tiers or a Time-of-use rate (TOU) which includes usage tiers too.

The California’s small renewable generator feed-in tariff program is available to certain solar and other renewable generation projects smaller and provides an alternative to net metering, provides customers with the option to either sell all electricity generated by their system under an MPR-based feed-in tariff, or to use their renewable generator to first meet on-site load and sell only the excess generation to the utility under the feed-in tariff. The Market Price Referement (MPR) is a price established by the California Public Utilities Commission that is updated annually and is intended to represent the long-term market price of electricity.

The MPR is used as a benchmark for assessing the above-market costs of contracts with renewable generators signed by the state’s investor-owned utilities for complying with California’s renewables portfolio standard (RPS). More recently, it has also become the basis for setting the contract price under California’s small renewable generator feed-in tariff program. To establish the MPR price for a specific renewable energy generator or contract, the MPR price is adjusted according to the time-of-delivery (TOD) period within which electricity is produced and the corresponding, utility-specific TOD adjustment factor.

The key points erased from the analysis are which follow:

  1. Bill savings under net metering are significantly greater for high-usage customers than for low-usage customers. This variation is attributable primarily to differences in customer usage level – where bill savings are greatest for high-usage customers who are able to offset consumption in high-priced usage tiers.
  2. Under net metering, the bill savings per kWh produced by the PV system decline with PV system size. This phenomenon is also a consequence of the inclining usage tiers used within the utilities’ residential retail tariffs; as PV generation increases, the customer faces a progressively lower marginal price for its net consumption, and thus receives progressively lower incremental bill savings. The drop in per-kWh bill savings with increasing PV system size is greater for high-usage customers – especially for high-usage PG&E customers.
  3. The utilities’ time-of-use rates become increasingly more attractive for net metered PV customers as the size of the PV system increases. With an increasing PV-to-load ratio, the increased PV generation disproportionately displaces consumption during the summer peak TOU period, causing the TOU rate to become progressively more attractive.
  4. Sub-optimal rate selection by customers generally leads to a reduction in bill savings of less than 10%, but can have a much greater impact for some customers at a low PV-to-load ratio.
  5. The per-kWh value of bill savings generally varies by less than 5% across the range of PV panel orientations considered, while the amount of electricity generated varies by 10-11%. Assuming that PV systems are oriented south-facing at a 25° tilt, In the median case, the west-southwest orientation results in 11% less PV electricity production than the base south-facing orientation, and the flat PV orientation results in 10% less electricity production.
  6. Under existing net metering rules and retail rate options, most customers would exhaust their annual bill savings with a PV system sized to meet less than 100% of their annual load. Under existing net metering rules, customers are able to roll-over any excess bill credits from one month to the next, but at the end of the year, any remaining bill credits are forfeited by the customer. Within our sample, 86% of PG&E customers and 97% of SCE customers would exhaust their bill savings with PV systems sized to meet less than 100% of their annual usage. In the median case, the PG&E customers exhaust their bill savings at a PV-to-load ratio of 93%, and the SCE customers do so at a PV-to-load ratio of 92%.
  7. Bill savings for PV customers would be substantially lower under the MPR-based feed-in tariff than under net metering. Under the full MPR-based feed-in tariff considered in our analysis, the median pre-tax bill savings is approximately $0.12/kWh for the PG&E customers in the sample, and $0.13/kWh for the SCE customers.  Across the PV-to-load ratios examined, this equates to a median reduction in bill savings, relative to net metering, of $0.08-$0.13/kWh (or 40%-54%) for the PG&E customers in the sample, and $0.07- $0.11/kWh (34%-46%) for the SCE.
  8. Bill savings under the MPR-based hourly netting option would be modestly less than under net metering. Under the hourly netting option, in which PV production can offset up to 100% of customer usage within each hour, but any excess hourly production is credited at the applicable MPR rate, customers of both utilities would also generally experience a reduction in bill savings relative to net metering.
  9. Bill savings under the monthly netting option would be effectively indistinguishable from the savings under net metering.
  10. Incorporating avoided T&D costs and reduced line losses into the alternative compensation mechanisms would increase the value of the bill savings, though the bill savings would still likely be less than under net metering.

Many California-based companies can help commercial and residential customers to reduce their electric bill by installing solar panels, offering a wide range of products and solutions including credit facilities for no upfront costs. Soltec America is one of them, you can visit its web and get a personal quote for free.

Soltec-Energies America sample

Why I Am Leaving Goldman Sachs – GREG SMITH

March 18, 2012 Leave a comment

A 12 years former executive, Greg Smith, has recently hit Goldman Sachs, an American leading investment and securities firm, by stating how the CEO and top board have replaced the customer-value focus for a firm’s profitability only. “They used to refer to the customer as Muppets”, he says.

Read the full letter on the NYT website.


Categories: antiheroes, business, news Tags: ,