Welcome to the Weekly Scan. Here’s what we’re following for the week of September 13, 2021.
Solar ambitions. The Biden administration announced a plan last week to increase solar energy production in the U.S., ramping up solar power’s contribution to the nation’s energy to 45% from its current 4%. This shift would aid the Biden Administration’s efforts to fight climate change and reduce planet-warming emissions to zero by 2035. In order to achieve this goal, the country will reportedly need to double the amount of solar energy generated every year over the next four years, and again by 2030.
- The takeaway: The Department of Energy offered a broad plan for increasing solar output, without outlining the legislation that will be required to make it happen. However, the details could be decided when Congress hammers out the bipartisan infrastructure bill and the country’s budget, which would total $3.5 trillion in federal spending.
Let’s make it three. The Chinese government announced last week that it will introduce a new stock exchange in Beijing, designed to serve small-to-medium-sized businesses. The exchange would be the country’s third, in addition to exchanges in Shanghai, the country’s financial hub, where its STAR exchange is located, and the southern city of Shenzhen. Companies will be able to list on the new exchange in a similar fashion to how companies can currently register for Shanghai’s STAR exchange, which is roughly equivalent to the tech-focused Nasdaq in the U.S.
- The takeaway: The introduction of this new exchange comes as the Chinese and American governments are heavily scrutinizing Chinese businesses. In China, the government announced a five-year plan intensifying regulation on businesses, including clamping down on monopolistic practices and more heavily controlling technology companies. And in the U.S., the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) said that it will require Chinese companies to provide more information in order to list their shares in the U.S., including risks of interference in their operations by the Chinese government, according to Reuters.
School is cool. Amazon announced last week that, starting in January, it will begin paying for college for more than 750,000 of its U.S. workers. The company said it will pay tuition and the cost of books, as well as for costs associated with high school diplomas, GEDs, and second language (ESL) certifications for hourly workers, at selected U.S. colleges. Employees reportedly will be able to take advantage of the perk once they’ve worked at Amazon for at least 90 days. Amazon will also pay 50% of the college expenses for part-time workers. Anyone who works as little as 20 hours per week will be eligible for partial college assistance.
- The takeaway: Amazon’s offer is the latest from big companies trying to attract and retain workers amid a labor shortage in the U.S. Employers have started offering higher wages, more time off, emergency childcare, and more to bring in workers. Weeks ago, Walmart started offering special bonuses and temporary pay raises for employees through the holiday season, as well as incentives for not missing shifts. Amazon also offers a $15 minimum wage, which is more than twice the federal minimum wage.
Another faceplant? Social media company Facebook has partnered with luxury and sports eyewear maker Luxottica, which owns Ray-Ban, to create an interactive pair of sunglasses. Called Ray-Ban Stories, they reportedly can take pictures and videos, answer calls, and play music and podcasts.The glasses, which will come in more than 20 different styles, sell for $299. They can take up to 35 30-second clips, or 500 pictures, which can then be uploaded to an app called Facebook View. Users can charge the glasses through a USB-C cable that connects to a computer, and the battery reportedly lasts for about six hours. Wearers can also activate the glasses by speaking to them and saying “Hey, Facebook.”
- The takeaway: Facebook isn’t the first company to attempt making wearable technology appealing to customers. Google’s smart glasses known as Google Glass, launched in 2012, were met with criticism and largely viewed as unsuccessful. Snapchat also created Snap Spectacles, which reportedly didn’t meet with a lot of success. Facebook’s new smart glasses, which could potentially be used to film people without their knowledge despite a small front facing light, could also fuel privacy concerns and criticism of how Facebook handles personal data. The glasses reportedly ask users to store transcripts of conversations with the voice-activated assistant, to be reviewed by a mix of humans and machine-learning algorithms.
Here’s what we covered in last week’s Scan:
- Beefed-up unemployment benefits that started during the pandemic come to an end.
- The Gulf Coast and the East Coast continue recovering from Hurricane Ida.
- El Salvador is the first country to name bitcoin a legal currency.
- Unemployment is highest among Black Americans.