Here comes the sun
June 17, 2014
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Tesla and SolarCity CEO Elon Musk's today announced a deal to acquire Silevo, a solar panel firm based in Silicon Valley. Musk explained the decision in a blog post:

SolarCity was founded to accelerate mass adoption of sustainable energy. The sun, that highly convenient and free fusion reactor in the sky, radiates more energy to the Earth in a few hours than the entire human population consumes from all sources in a year. This means that solar panels, paired with batteries to enable power at night, can produce several orders of magnitude more electricity than is consumed by the entirety of human civilization. [Solar City]

To get there, though, solar energy needs two things — both of which Musk wants to address himself. First, mass energy storage. The sun shines when it's sunny. Storage is necessary for cloudy days and nights. Musk is addressing this with the Tesla Gigafactory, mass battery-manufacturing facilities that Musk projects will drive down lithium-ion battery costs 30 percent in the first year alone. And second, solar needs economies of scale. That's why Musk has acquired Silevo, with the intention to build Gigafactories for solar panel manufacturing:

We are in discussions with the state of New York to build the initial manufacturing plant, continuing a relationship developed by the Silevo team. At a targeted capacity greater than 1 GW within the next two years, it will be one of the single largest solar panel production plants in the world. This will be followed in subsequent years by one or more significantly larger plants at an order of magnitude greater annual production capacity. [Solar City]

But that's just the start:

Even if the solar industry were only to generate 40 percent of the world’s electricity with photovoltaics by 2040, that would mean installing more than 400 GW of solar capacity per year for the next 25 years. We absolutely believe that solar power can and will become the world’s predominant source of energy within our lifetimes, but there are obviously a lot of panels that have to be manufactured and installed in order for that to happen. The plans we are announcing today, while substantial compared to current industry, are small in that context. [Solar City]

Of course, solar energy costs were rapidly falling even before this. But this kind of focused project is likely to keep that momentum going for a while yet. It is looking more and more likely that we will soon live in a world where renewable energy is cheaper than fossil fuels. John Aziz

This just in
3:34 p.m. ET
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On Friday afternoon, Colorado Springs police officers responded to reports of an active shooter at a Planned Parenthood clinic, reports the Associated Press, initially notifying residents and the media via Twitter to stay away from the scene because it was not secure. The gunman allegedly barricaded himself inside the building, reportedly injuring at least three police officers before he was eventually contained. Stephanie Talmadge

Only in America
2:15 p.m. ET

A Columbia University student claims that she's been deeply traumatized by reading too many books about white people. Nissy Aya told a university panel that the school's required "core" courses forced her to look at history "through the lens of these powerful, white men." As a result of feeling "no power or agency as a black woman," she said, it will take her six years to graduate. The Week Staff

foreign policy woes
1:58 p.m. ET
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This weekend, GOP presidential candidate Ben Carson will make a surprise trip to Jordan to tour a Syrian refugee camp, according to the New York Times. His advisers have framed the trip as an effort on Carson's behalf to improve his understanding of the refugee crisis, which has recently come under harsh criticism.

Prepared with Beanie Babies and soccer balls to distribute to the refugee children, Carson's trip will include a tour of the Azraq hospital and clinic near Amman. "I want to hear some of their stories," said Carson. "I find when you have firsthand knowledge of things as opposed to secondhand, it makes a much stronger impression."

Prior to the Nov. 13 terror attacks in Paris, Carson held strong leads in some state and national polls, but his support has waned as national security concerns mount and the neurosurgeon has come under intense fire for his lack of foreign policy knowledge. Last week, Carson's senior foreign policy adviser told the Times in an interview that "nobody has been able to sit down with him and have him get one iota of intelligent information about the Middle East." Stephanie Talmadge

For those who have everything
1:18 p.m. ET
Courtesy image

America's second-largest toymaker is "reaching out to that last frontier of consumers: seniors," says Andrew Liszewski at Gizmodo. Hasbro's new Joy for All Companion Pets ($100) promise to provide Grandma or Granddad with hours of virtual companionship in a small, battery-operated package. Three cat models are already available, and each uses motion sensors and light sensors to help it respond to being petted and hugged. You can hear and feel it purring, and it'll even roll over if petted long enough. The concept "might sound a little depressing," but even a lonely septuagenarian can appreciate the appeal of a pet that demands only affection — "not feeding or bathroom breaks." The Week Staff

retail therapy
12:39 p.m. ET
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Ah, Black Friday: the post-Thanksgiving feast day of digestion that is perhaps best known for turning American shoppers into monsters, as they abandon their visiting families to camp outside big box retailers and compete for the best holiday deals. While we all know the basics of the retail-frenzied occasion, many may be surprised to learn the long history of how the biggest shopping day of the year came into its name:

  • Since the early 1900s, the post-Thanksgiving weekend has signaled the beginning of the holiday shopping rush, with New York City retailers fully embracing the marketing opportunity in the '20s by releasing Christmas ads and staging events, including a little parade you may have heard of — Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade — which debuted in 1924.
  • In 1939, the holiday had already become so important to merchants that President Franklin D. Roosevelt moved Thanksgiving a week earlier to extend the buying period.
  • By the '50s, factory managers began referring to the day as "Black Friday" due to the rampant failure of employees to show up for work.
  • Philadelphia's police officers during the '60s used the term to refer to the swaths of jaywalking shoppers who flooded the city's downtown.
  • While the term continued to grow in popularity to connote the shopping frenzy, it wasn't until the 80's that the name took on a positive connotation, as shop managers pointed out that the holiday rush put "black ink," signaling profits, rather than loss-signaling red ink, on their revenue reports for the first time all year.

There you have it, but with Black Friday's continued encroaching on its Thanksgiving precursor and increasingly violent reputation, perhaps the name will once again revert to its negative origins. Stephanie Talmadge

Only in America
12:16 p.m. ET

Two men were booted off a Southwest Airlines flight when a paranoid passenger overheard them speaking Arabic. The men were allowed onto the plane after being questioned by police, but were then forced by other passengers to open a small white box they were carrying — which was full of sweets. "So I shared my baklava with them," said one of the men. The Week Staff

police shootings
11:28 a.m. ET
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Demonstrators in Chicago protesting the fatal shooting of black teenager Laquan McDonald by a white police officer have scheduled a Friday march in the city's best-known retail district to disrupt Black Friday shopping. The city released several dashcam videos earlier this week showing Officer Jason Van Dyke, who was charged Tuesday with murder, repeatedly shooting the teen. The videos, which oddly capture little audio, touched off two nights of mostly peaceful demonstrations calling for an independent investigation.

Following the charges filed against Van Dyke, Rev. Jesse Jackson held several meetings Wednesday with elected officials and community leaders to form a response to McDonald's killing, reports the Chicago Tribune. "The whole idea is that we need a massive demonstration," Jackson said in an interview. "And a massive quest for justice." Stephanie Talmadge

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