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Small-scale solar power is changing lives and disrupting traditional models



Solar power is becoming an increasingly important part of the planet’s energy mix. In 2016, solar photovoltaic grew faster than any other fuel, with China responsible for nearly half of worldwide expansion, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA).

While solar power projects can be grand in scale there are some that, while smaller, are no less important. Repowering London, a not-for-profit based in the U.K. capital, helps facilitate community-owned renewable energy projects there.

In October 2015, Banister House in Hackney, east London, became home to the borough’s first community-owned solar power project. The project was developed by Repowering London, residents of Banister House and Hackney Energy.

Banister House Solar, as the scheme is known, produces community-owned renewable electricity for the building and its residents. According to Repowering London, 679 tons of carbon dioxide will be prevented from entering the atmosphere during the project’s 20-year lifetime.

A small community generating its own energy is not restricted to large urban conurbations. In Scotland, for example, the Findhorn Ecovillage is home to four community-owned wind turbines with a total capacity of 750 kilowatts.

These turbines help make the village a net exporter of electricity. According to those behind the project, around half of the electricity generated is used on-site through a private grid, with the rest sent to the main grid.

Back in the capital, Agamemnon Otero, CEO of Repowering London, said that smart meters had also been installed for residents so that they can see what they are generating. The cost of the project, around £150,000 ($209,148), was raised by members of the public, with investors getting a share of the profit when energy is sold back to the grid.

“While it might not seem a large amount, £150,000… all of it was raised from the local community within eight weeks,” Otero said.

“There’s a 4 percent return on their investment, there (are)… savings to the building owner so that the actual council is making savings as well. The financial benefits stream out both for members and the partners involved.”

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China prepares for a big annual meeting to chart a growth strategy



Chinese President Xi Jinping attends the National Day reception on the eve of the 71st anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China in Beijing, China September 30, 2020.

Thomas Peter | Reuters

BEIJING — The Chinese government is set to kick off an annual parliamentary meeting this week for approving national priorities for 2021.

The gathering of delegates, known as the “Two Sessions,” has overseen such changes as President Xi Jinping‘s abolition of term limits in 2018 and the proposal for a new security law for Hong Kong last year.

The otherwise generally symbolic meeting takes on particular significance this year as it marks the beginning of China’s five-year development plan — the 14th such in the country’s history — and the 100th anniversary of the ruling Communist Party.

Authorities are expected to lay out details on topics ranging from employment targets to management of the semi-autonomous region of Hong Kong.

Such comments will come as Beijing seeks to show progress on development promises made to the country of 1.4 billion people, and build up China’s competitiveness in a world shocked by the coronavirus pandemic and growing wary of the Asian giant’s rise.

No specific GDP target expected

Li-Gang Liu, managing director and chief China economist at Citi Research, said in a note that if the report lays out a GDP target directly or indirectly, the figure could top 7%. That’s according to growth goals announced by different Chinese provinces and a commitment to double GDP from its level in 2010, Liu said.

On monetary policy, although authorities have emphasized they will not abruptly reverse stimulus policies, “we expect China’s monetary policy conditions will visibly tighten this year,” Liu added.

China’s economy grew by 2.3% last year, despite the shock of the coronavirus pandemic, as authorities rushed to control the domestic spread of the virus and support businesses with tax cuts and cheaper loans. That GDP growth followed expansion of 6.0% in 2019, according to official figures.

On employment, economists generally anticipate China will aim to create more than 10 million new urban jobs this year, up from 9 million last year.

A plan for the next five years

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How much I overpaid buying things in bitcoin in 2017



Four years ago, I attempted to live off bitcoin for a week and failed. It was too hard to find businesses that would accept it as a form of payment.

Bitcoin was trading in the $2,500 range at the time in 2017. Later that year, it soared to a then-record high of nearly $20,000. In 2018, it lost 80% of its value.

With bitcoin soaring 2,220% since the days of $2,500 per coin — most recently surpassing $58,000 — I decided to put it to the test, again.

But before I embarked on my new adventure, I looked back at the things I was able to pay for in bitcoin in 2017, and how much that amount of bitcoin would be worth at last month’s record prices.


How much I overpaid

Apps make it easier now

In 2017, I found it difficult to buy coffee directly using bitcoin. In 2021, it’s possible thanks to Bakkt Cash, a digital currency platform that Starbucks is testing out via a limited program.

That’s probably one of the biggest changes from four years ago, a growing number of third-party apps that make it easier to spend your bitcoin. Instead of putting a credit card into the apps, you opt to pay with bitcoin. Generally, the apps show you prices in dollars and draw on your bitcoin as the payment source.

Flexa, which bills itself as the “most fraud-proof payments network,” said retailers like Nordstrom, GameStop and Lowe’s allow consumers to transact with bitcoin using its system.

However, Flexa told CNBC a majority of the transactions on its platform, more than 60%, are for coffee, tea and other quick-service items. It charges no user fees.

Similar to four years ago, there are workarounds including gift cards that bitcoin holders can buy using their bitcoin. However, these sites typically have transaction fees that vary depending on a number of factors. Currently on, the average transaction fee is $15. Two weeks ago, it was around $30.

Costly transaction fees are one of the many reasons bitcoin holders told CNBC they don’t view it as true currency. Based on a Chainalysis report, only 1% of bitcoin transactions in the U.S. were for merchant services last year.

Using a popular service, I was able to buy a $5 gift card to use on Amazon by connecting my crypto wallet. The process was slightly time-consuming and the transaction page did not break out the service fee.

What could redefine how cryptocurrency enthusiasts view bitcoin is PayPal‘s success in rolling out supportive technology that would allow its customers to use bitcoin as a payments tool with its nearly 30 million merchants.

PayPal’s involvement should make this much easier for merchants to become comfortable with accepting bitcoin.

“PayPal’s involvement should make this much easier for merchants to become comfortable with accepting bitcoin, particularly since what PayPal is doing is essentially enabling the synthetic acceptance of the cryptocurrency. At the end of the day, the merchants will have fiat currency in their books for their goods and service,” Mark Palmer, managing director of fintech and digital assets at BTIG, told CNBC.

David Grider, director of digital asset strategy at Fundstrat, said that decreased bitcoin volatility, lower crypto-to-fiat exchange fees, and wider crypto use in general are needed before cryptocurrency payments achieve mainstream adoption.

Until then, most experts said bitcoin will be widely viewed by holders as a store of value versus a currency. It’s often referred to as digital gold.

Regulation and taxes

However, before you start to prep your phone with apps that enable you to use your bitcoin, beware of two things: regulation and taxes.

Just last week, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen sounded the alarm on the use of cryptocurrencies in illicit activities as a “growing problem,” prompting some concerns about whether digital coins, which by their nature are decentralized, would be regulated somehow.

As for the issue of taxes with April 15 fast approaching, investors should be aware that the IRS classifies bitcoin as a property, not a currency. So yes, capital gains taxes could apply.

Only time will tell if I’ll be kicking myself four years from now for buying items with bitcoin or thanking my lucky stars. It all depends on whether the sky-high prices go even higher.

— CNBC’s George Manessis contributed to this report.

Correction: Based on a Chainalysis report, only 1% of bitcoin transactions in the U.S. were for merchant services last year. An earlier version misstated the percentage.

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Investors watch Australia’s Q4 GDP, China economic data



SINGAPORE — Stocks in Asia-Pacific were mixed in Wednesday morning trade as investors awaited the release of Australia’s fourth-quarter gross domestic product data.

In Japan, the Nikkei 225 and Topix index both rose 0.4% each. South Korea’s Kospi dipped 0.22%.

Shares in Australia advanced as the S&P/ASX 200 edged about 0.7% higher.

MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan traded 0.16% higher.

Data ahead

On the economic data front, Australia’s fourth-quarter GDP print is expected to be out around 8:30 a.m. HK/SIN.

A private survey on China’s services sector activity in February is also expected on Wednesday, with the Caixin/Markit services Purchasing Managers’ Index set to be out around 9:45 a.m. HK/SIN.


The U.S. dollar index, which tracks the greenback against a basket of its peers, was at 90.785 — off levels above 91 seen earlier in the week.

The Japanese yen traded at 106.73 per dollar, still weaker than levels below 105.7 against the greenback seen last week. The Australian dollar changed hands at $0.7819, following levels around $0.774 seen yesterday.

Here’s a look at what’s on tap:

  • Australia: Fourth-quarter GDP print at 8:30 a.m. HK/SIN
  • China: Caixin/Markit services Purchasing Managers’ Index at 9:45 a.m. HK/SIN

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— CNBC’s Kevin Breuninger contributed to this report.

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