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What is Better than a Sunflower?

Solar technologies harness solar energy, which is free and unlimited. They are broadly characterised as either passive or active, depending on the way they capture, convert and distribute solar energy. Active solar techniques are based on photovoltaic panels and solar thermal collectors. Passive solar techniques include orienting a building to the sun, selecting materials with favourable thermal mass or light dispersing properties and designing spaces that naturally circulate air.

However, solar-power stations can be rather extensive. Alexander Mitsos and Corey Noone, two researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, have now thought up a more efficient way to build arrays of mirrors occupying almost 16% less space.

The mirrors are normally placed in concentric semicircles facing a tower, on top of which there are the boiler and turbine: they sometimes shade each other as the sun moves. The researchers divided each of the mirrors in a real power plant, PS10, in southern Spain into about 100 pieces and calculated all the energy losses using a computer model. It resulted that the more compact and efficient pattern is a Fermat spiral, a design where each element is set at a constant angle of 137° to the previous one, which is exactly the arrangement of the florets of a sunflower!

If you are interested in clean energies, you may also like Deep Heat.

By | January 31st, 2012|Blog|0 Comments

Hard Times for CEOs

In one of the latest issues of The Economist, today’s corporate boss was compared to a shipwrecked Gulliver tied to the ground by Lilliputians. Two decades ago bosses were relatively unbound, but now things have changed, and they have to face bigger challenges.

First of all, they do not last long. According to the consultancy Booz & Company, among the world’s 2,500 biggest public companies, today departing CEOs keep their place for 6.6 years, compared to 8.1 years in 2000.

Moreover, fewer chief executives now chair their own boards. Even in the US, imperial bosses are not trusted anymore: the Corporate Library, a pressure group, stated that the proportion of CEOs of S&P 500 firms who are also the chairman fell from 78% in 2002 to 59% in 2010. The rise of institutional investors, such as mutual funds, has changed the way investors interact with managers.

Today, the vast majority of board members are outsiders and are more demanding, which has led to a big improvement in quality. In his new book Winning Investors Over, Baruch Lev of New York University’s Stern School of Business writes that investors often are a team of rivals for the CEO.

If you are interested in this topic, you may also like 10 Tips to be a Good Manager.

By | January 29th, 2012|Blog|0 Comments

State Capitalism

State capitalism is usually described as a profit-seeking economic activity undertaken by the state with management of the productive forces in a capitalist manner. Across the OECD, state-owned enterprises have a combined value of almost $2 trillion and employ 6m people.

A new kind of state capitalism started with the Singaporean leader Lee Kuan Yew, who grasped that Singapore needed to attract foreign investments. The country now has a highly developed and successful free-market economy, with major investments in pharmaceuticals and medical technology production.

Deng Xiaoping, as leader of the Communist Party of China, was another important reformer who led China towards a market economy. He invested in research and development and created special economic zones for Western foreign companies, applying the Western corporate model to state companies.

Since the late 1970s, China has in fact moved from a closed, centrally planned system to a more market-oriented one that plays a major global role in the world economy. Political scientist Ian Bremmer wrote a book called The End of the Free Market: Who Wins the War Between States and Corporations, where he describes China as the primary driver for the rise of state capitalism as a challenge to the free market economies of the developed world.

By | January 26th, 2012|Blog|0 Comments
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