Posted Jan. 5, 2017 at 6:23 a.m.

Tech headlines: Israel's huge solar tower; Tesla gigaplant online; Hulu-CBS streaming; Labor Dept. vs. Google

Published: 2017-01-05 06:23:38
Updated: 2017-01-05 06:23:38

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In today's Bulldog wrapup of technology and science headlines:

  • Israel harnessing sunshine with world's tallest solar tower
  • Tesla begins making battery cells at massive Nevada factory
  • Hulu adds CBS for upcoming live TV streaming service
  • Lawsuit seeks to ban Google from US government contracts

The details:

  • Israel harnessing sunshine with world's tallest solar tower

In sunny Israel, solar energy supplies only a small percentage of the nation's power needs, leaving it far behind countries with cloudier and colder climates.

Now the fledgling solar industry is trying to make a leap forward with a large-scale project boasting the world's tallest solar tower, as a symbol of Israel's renewal energy ambitions.

Israel's solar towerWith Israel traditionally running its economy on fossil fuels, renewable energy has long been hobbled by bureaucracy and a lack of incentives. But the country is starting to make an effort, setting a goal of generating 10 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2020, up from the current 2.5 percent.

The Ashalim project, deep in the Negev desert, is made up of three plots, with a fourth planned for the future, each with a different solar technology. Together, the fields will be Israel's largest renewable energy project when completed by 2018. They are set to generate some 310 megawatts of power, about 1.6 percent of the country's energy needs — enough for about 130,000 households, or roughly 5 percent of Israel's population, according to Israel's Electricity Authority.

"It's the most significant single building block in Israel's commitment to CO2 reduction and renewable energy," said Eran Gartner, chief executive of Megalim Solar Power Ltd., which is building one part of the project.

The centerpiece is a solar tower that will be the world's tallest at 250 meters (820 feet).

Solar towers use a method differing from the more common photovoltaic solar panels, which convert sunlight directly into electricity. Instead, towers use a solar-thermal method: Thousands of mirrors focus the sun's rays onto the tower, heating a boiler that creates steam to spin a turbine and generate electricity.

Encircling the Ashalim tower are 50,000 mirrors, known as heliostats, in a shimmering blanket of glass over the desert. The tower is so tall because the panels were squeezed together to maximize use of the land — and the closer the panels are the taller the tower must be, Gartner explained.

Another solar-thermal plot at Ashalim will be able to store energy even when the sun goes down. A third plot will use photovoltaic solar technology to produce energy.

  • Tesla begins making battery cells at massive Nevada factory

Tesla Motors says it has started producing lithium-ion battery cells at its $5 billion factory in Nevada.

The company says it began making high-performance cells in December and production started Wednesday for cells used in Powerwall energy-storage products.

Tesla plans to start making batteries for its Model 3 sedans later this year.

The massive Gigafactory outside Sparks is coming online in phases, with a goal of full operation in 2018.

Officials say it could almost double the world's production of lithium-ion batteries, making them more affordable as the company looks beyond the luxury niche market.

The electric carmaker says it has more than 850 full-time employees, plus more than 1,700 construction workers.

Nevada has promised Tesla $1.3 billion in state tax incentives based on projections that it'll employ 6,500 people at full production.

  • Hulu adds CBS for upcoming live TV streaming service

Hulu is teaming up with CBS to add three of the network's channels to its upcoming live TV streaming service.

The service will cost under $40 a month, Hulu CEO Mike Hopkins said at a conference Wednesday, but he did not give a specific price. That will include Hulu's library of on-demand videos as well.

Hulu said the live-streaming service will launch in the coming months, but did not give a date.

The CBS deal will give Hulu the right to live-stream the nation's most-watched broadcast network as well as CBS Sports Network and cable channel Pop.

  • Lawsuit seeks to ban Google from US government contracts

The U.S. Labor Department is trying to bar Google from doing business with the federal government unless the internet company turns over confidential information about thousands of its employees.

The potential banishment is being sought in a Labor Department lawsuit filed Wednesday with the Office of Administrative Law Judges.

The complaint alleges that Google has repeatedly refused to provide the Labor Department with employee compensation records and other information as part of an audit designed to ensure the company isn't discriminating against workers based on gender or race.

The review of how Google pays the thousands of workers at its Mountain View, California, headquarters is allowed under decades-old laws regulating U.S. government contractors.

Google has struck a series of deals with various federal government agencies during the past decade, including a digital advertising agreement cited by the Labor Department that has generated more than $600,000 for the company since June 2014, according to the complaint. That amount is a pittance for Google, whose revenue has surpassed $130 billion during the same span.

If Google doesn't comply with all its demands, the Labor Department wants a legal order that would void all of the company's current federal government contracts and block future deals.

In a statement, Google said it has provided hundreds of thousands of records in an attempt to comply with the Labor Department's requests, but has rebuffed some of the agency's demands as "overbroad" and an invasion of employee privacy.

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