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The Ultimate in Luxury Air Travel

If you're wealthy and you want to buy an airplane, no matter how big, you want to go to the biennial Dubai Air Show. There, you will find everything, from a small two-seater to a diamond-encrusted jet. Aircraft manufacturers say business is booming as more and more rich people try to avoid crowded commercial flights. VOA's George Putic has more.

Africa's Renewable Energy Set to Soar by 2022

Strong demand is set to give a huge boost to renewable energy growth in sub-Saharan Africa over the next five years, driving cumulative capacity up more than 70 percent, a senior international energy official said Wednesday. From Ethiopia to South Africa, millions of people are getting access to electricity for the first time as the continent turns to solar, wind and hydropower projects to boost generation capacity. "A big chunk of this [growth] is hydro because of Ethiopia, but then you have solar ... in South Africa, Nigeria and Namibia and wind in South Africa and Ethiopia as well," said Paolo Frankl, head of the renewable division at the Paris-based International Energy Agency. He forecast installed capacity of renewable energy in the Sub-Saharan region almost doubling — from around 35 gigawatts now to above 60 gigawatts, given the right conditions. Ethiopia has an array of hydropower projects under construction, including the $4.1 billion Grand Renaissance Dam along the Nile River that will churn out 6,000 megawatts upon completion. That is enough for a good-sized city for a year. "Africa has one of the best potential resources of renewables anywhere in the world, but it depends very much on the enabling framework, on the governance and the right rules," Frankl told Reuters on the sidelines of a wind energy conference. Coal industry opposition The transition to a low-carbon trajectory to reduce harmful greenhouse gases is creating opposition from the coal industry and fueling uncertainty in countries where job creation was linked to coal mining. In Africa, this tension and its impact on new investment has been best illustrated by South Africa's state-owned Eskom and its reluctance to sign new deals with independent power producers, according to analysts. In May, the South African Wind Energy Association (SAWEA) said the energy regulator agreed to investigate Eskom's refusal to sign agreements that delayed 2,942 megawatts in new solar and wind projects. "Our government does not appear to appreciate the forces of nature," SAWEA Chairman Mark Pickering said Wednesday. The inability of Eskom to sign the new power purchase agreements for two years has delayed investment of 58 billion rand ($4.03 billion), and hit investor confidence with at least one shutdown of a wind turbine manufacturing plant, said SAWEA. "The continent has a lot of potential, but the problem is financial and political issues, so all of our projects are being delayed for quite a long time, like with Eskom," said Mason Qin, business development manager for southern and eastern Africa at China's Goldwind.

IS May Sustain Virtual Caliphate After Battlefield Losses, Experts Say

With the Islamic State group almost defeated on the ground in Iraq and Syria and its territorial hold dramatically reduced, the terror group and its sympathizers continue to demonstrate their ability to weaponize the internet in an effort to radicalize, recruit and inspire acts of terrorism in the region and around the world. Experts charge that the terror group's ability to produce and distribute new propaganda has been significantly diminished, particularly after it recently lost the northern Syrian city of Raqqa, its self-proclaimed capital and media headquarters. But they warn that the circulation of its old media content and easy access to it on social media platforms indicates that the virtual caliphate will live on in cyberspace for some time, even as IS's physical control ends. "Right now we have such a huge problem on the surface web — and [it's] really easy to access literally tens of thousands of videos that are fed to you, one after the other, [and] that are leading to radicalization," Hany Farid, a computer science professor at Dartmouth College and adviser for the group Counter Extremism Project (CEP) in Washington, said Monday. Little headway Speaking at a panel discussion about the rights and responsibilities of social media platforms in an age of global extremism at the Washington-based Newseum, Farid said the social media giants Facebook, Google and Twitter have tried to get radical Islamist content off the internet, but significant, game-changing results have yet to be seen. Farid said social media companies are facing increasing pressure from governments and counterterrorism advocates to remove content that fuels extremism. Earlier this year, Facebook announced it had developed new artificial intelligence programs to identify extremist posts and had hired thousands of people to monitor content that could be suspected of inciting violence. Twitter also reported that it had suspended nearly 300,000 terrorism-related accounts in the first half of the year. YouTube on Monday said Alphabet's Google in recent months had expanded its crackdown on extremism-related content. The new policy, Reuters reported, will affect videos that feature people and groups that have been designated as terrorists by the U.S. or British governments. The New York Times reported that the new policy has led YouTube to remove hundreds of videos of the slain jihadist Anwar al-Awlaki lecturing on the history of Islam, recorded long before he joined al-Qaida and encouraged violence against the U.S. The World Economic Forum's human rights council issued a report last month, warning tech companies that they might risk tougher regulations by governments to limit freedom of speech if they do not stem the publishing of violent content by Islamic State and the spread of misinformation. IS digital propaganda has reportedly motivated more than 30,000 people to journey thousands of miles to join IS, according to a report published by Wired, a magazine published in print and online editions that focuses on how emerging technologies affect culture, the economy and politics. An ongoing struggle Experts say measures to restrict cyberspace for terrorist activities could prove helpful, but they warn it cannot completely prevent terror groups from spreading their propaganda online and that it will be a struggle for some time. According to Fran Townsend, the former U.S. homeland security adviser, terrorist groups are constantly evolving on the internet as the new security measures force them onto platforms that are harder to track, such as encrypted services like WhatsApp and Telegram and file-sharing platforms like Google Drive. She said last month's New York City attacker, Sayfullo Saipov, used Telegram to evade U.S counterterrorism authorities. "This guy was on Telegram in ISIS chat rooms. He went looking for them, he was able to find them, and he was able to communicate on an encrypted app that evaded law enforcement," Townsend said during Monday's panel on extremism at the Newseum. U.S. officials said Saipov viewed 90 IS propaganda videos online, and more than 4,000 extremism related images were found on his cellphones, including instructions on how to carry out vehicular attacks. As the crackdown increases on online jihadi propaganda, experts warn the desperate terror groups and their lone wolf online activists and sympathizers could aggressively retaliate. Last week, about 800 school websites across the United States were attacked by pro-IS hackers. The hack, which lasted for two hours, redirected visitors to IS propaganda video and images of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. Similar attacks were also reported in Europe, including last week's hacking of MiX Megapil, a private radio station in Sweden where a pro-IS song was played for about 30 minutes. A global response Experts maintain that to counter online extremism and terrorism, there is a need for a coordinated international response as social media platforms continue to cross national borders and jurisdictions. Last month, Facebook, Twitter, Google and the Group of Seven advanced economies joined forces against jihadi online propaganda and vowed to remove the content from the web within two hours of its being uploaded. "Our European colleagues — little late to this game, by the way — have come into it in a big way," Townsend said. She said the U.S-led West had given more attention to physical warfare against IS at the expense of the war in cyberspace. "We have been very proficient in fighting this in physical space. ... But we were late in the game viewing the internet," she said. Townsend added that the complexity of the problem requires action even at the local level. "The general public can be a force multiplier," she said, adding, "As you're scrolling through your feed and you see something ... it literally takes 50 seconds for you to hit a button and tell Twitter, 'This should not be here and it's not appropriate content.' And it will make a difference."

Electric Trucks Emerging But Still Have a Long Haul

Electric trucks are having a moment in the spotlight, but they won’t replace diesel-powered trucks in big numbers until they overcome costs and other limitations. Tesla Inc. plans to unveil a semitractor-trailer this week, its first foray into trucking after more than a decade of making cars and SUVs. German automaker Daimler AG showed off its own electric semi last month and says it could be on sale in a few years. Truck rental company Ryder just added 125 all-electric vans made by California startup Chanje to its fleet. “It’s kind of like the checkered flag is being waved,” said Glen Kedzie, energy and environmental counsel with the American Trucking Associations. “We've seen different fuels come and go, and electric has gotten to the front of the line.” Battery cost is the key As battery costs fall and more options enter the market, global sales of pure electric trucks are expected to grow exponentially, from 4,100 in 2016 to 70,600 in 2026, according to Navigant Research. Delivery companies, mail services and utilities will be among the biggest purchasers, and most of the growth will come from Europe, China and the U.S. Most electric trucks on the road will be medium-duty vehicles like delivery vans or garbage trucks. They're quiet and emission-free, and they can be plugged in and charged at the end of a shift. They’re ideal for predictable urban routes of 100 miles or less; a longer range than that requires more batteries, which are heavy and expensive.   One issue: Cost. A medium-duty electric truck costs about $70,000 more than equivalent diesel trucks, according to the consulting firm Deloitte. Buyers considering electrics have to weigh what they can save on fuel and maintenance costs, since electrics have fewer parts. Heavy-duty trucks like electric semis have even further to go before they can be competitive with diesels. Some of those trucks are used for shorter routes, but to achieve a longer range of 300 miles, they require more batteries. Electrification is expensive   Deloitte estimates electrification adds around $150,000 to the cost of a heavy-duty vehicle, or more than double the cost of some diesel tractor-trailers. Electric semi trucks will have the added problem of long charging times and little highway charging infrastructure. “I see it being relevant but not ready for prime time,” Chanje CEO Bryan Hansel said of long-haul electric trucks. He thinks it will be five years or more before the battery technology and infrastructure can support cross-country electric trucking.   “It’s a big prize, but the physics haven’t caught up yet,” he said.   But analysts believe that will change. Battery costs are expected to fall significantly over the next decade as technology improves. Deloitte expects battery costs for trucks to fall from $260 per kilowatt-hour in 2016 to $122 in 2026. That would cut the cost of a 300 kWh battery pack — like the one in Daimler’s prototype semi — from $78,000 to $36,600. In the meantime, regulations will drive interest in electric trucks. In the U.S., trucks must meet stricter emissions standards through 2027 under rules that went into effect last year. China is also tightening emissions standards. And several major cities, including Paris and Mexico City, have called for a ban on diesels by 2025 to improve air quality.   Incentives are also enticing companies to add electric trucks to their fleets. Companies that buy or lease vans from Chanje are eligible for an $80,000 voucher per vehicle from the state of California, for example. France pays out 10,000 euros ($11,669) to buyers who replace diesel vehicles with electric ones. UPS has 300 electric trucks Companies are also experimenting with electrics — and other alternatives, like natural gas — because they want to meet their own sustainability goals and figure out the optimal mix for their fleets. United Parcel Service, for example, has 300 electric trucks in its global fleet of 100,000 vehicles, mostly in the U.S. and Europe, said Scott Phillippi, UPS's Senior Director of Maintenance and Engineering for international operations.   Many of UPS’s delivery routes require trucks to travel less than 100 miles per day, a range easily met by an electric truck, Phillippi said. He said electric trucks also help the company take advantage of incentives. UPS has set a goal of having 25 percent of its fleet be made up of alternative fuel vehicles by 2020, in part to encourage manufacturers to keep building and improving such trucks. “The proof of concept time is over,” he said. “Everybody is starting to agree it's not a matter of if, it's a matter of when.”

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