China-based consumer electronics firm Xiaomi, known for its Apple ( AAPL ) copycat smartphones, has come out with a low-cost flying camera drone that could shake up the nascent market. On Wednesday, Xiaomi, roughly pronounced “show me,” introduced its first drone, the Mi Drone, which costs about $380 for the entry-level model with a 1080p camera. A higher-end model with a 4K camera costs about $450. The Xiaomi drones will be sold in China, at least initially, TechCrunch reported . Camera drones from market leader DJI start at $500, with 4K drones starting at $800. And those prices are after recent discounts. Action camera maker GoPro ( GPRO ) is expected to enter the drone market in time for the holiday shopping season. Pricing has not been announced for its Karma drones. U.S. Drone Sales Skyrocketing Retail tracker NPD Group reported Wednesday that drone sales in the U.S. have grown 224% year over year to nearly $200 million in the 12 months ending in April. Drones with 4K cameras accounted for more than one-third of dollar sales in that period, while drones with built-in GPS accounted for 64% of revenue. The average drone sold for more than $550 in April, NPD said. “It’s not surprising that drones were highly sought after during last year’s holiday season,” NPD analyst Ben Arnold said in a statement. “But even after the holidays, NPD’s consumer research indicates drone purchase expectations remain high, especially among younger consumers. This points to continued growth and healthy demand for the category.” China-based DJI was the top U.S. drone vendor in terms of dollar sales. French company Parrot was second, followed by Protocol, Yuneec and 3D Robotics, NPD said. RELATED: Red Bull Gives GoPro Wings, But Camera Maker Still Low-Flier Drone Market Positive For AeroVironment, Not GoPro, Piper Says
In 2040, solar installations will account for 30% of U.S. installed energy generation, Bloomberg New Energy Finance analyst Hugh Bromley predicted Wednesday during SunPower ‘s ( SPWR ) Sustainable Energy Symposium in San Francisco. That would be 1.6 terawatts — an as-yet unneeded metric for the solar industry. In 2015, cumulative U.S. solar installations hit 24.7 gigawatts, and industry tracker IHS expects the U.S. to add 5.6 GW before the end of the year. Worldwide, the installed base is expected to surpass 310 GW in capacity. To reach the 2040 target, the U.S. will have to transform the way it funds solar, Bromley said. Navigating The Regulatory Flux Last year was a landmark year for the U.S. solar industry. Congress extended the Investment Tax Credit (ITC) — a key subsidy underpinning the solar industry — and President Obama unveiled his Clean Power Plan in an effort to combat global warming. California set a goal of 50% renewable energy by 2030. On the other hand, net-metering debates spooked potential customers and became fodder for lawsuits. In Nevada, regulators cut payments to solar customers for energy fed back to the grid, prompting residential installers SolarCity ( SCTY ) and Sunrun ( RUN ) to exit the state. “If the economics go the way we think they will, what that would suggest is the energy markets we have today at the wholesale level trickling down to retail simply won’t work as they do today,” he said. “They will need to change. They will fail.” And therein lies the risk, Bromley says. Customers buying or leasing solar systems for 15-20 years, on average, have little to no visibility into the future of the solar industry which SunPower CEO Tom Werner earlier called “turbulent.” Customers are “exposed to several layers of price risk,” Bromley says. “What is your energy bill going to look like? Will there be increased fixed charges and demand tariffs? How is your asset going to be positioned in whatever retail billing looks like in 10 to 20 years’ time?” That’s where SunPower shines, Werner argues. Unlike rival developer SunEdison which “went bankrupt in spectacular fashion,” and SolarCity which is growing rapidly but not profitably, SunPower is diversified and has cash on hand to make it long term. SunPower reported a 30-cent per-share loss ex items for its Q1. It was SunPower’s first quarter in the red in three years vs. residential installers like SolarCity and Vivint Solar ( VSLR ), which have never been profitable. Top rival First Solar ( FSLR ) reported a loss once in the past three years. Solar: ‘A No Brainer’ Balance sheet aside, SunPower’s tech innovations — which combine hardware with software — will weather the upcoming regulatory flux, Werner says. The company’s Helix product isn’t a “cut and paste solar system,” it’s a complete solution that includes storage and energy management. Wall Street often considers solar storage a pie-in-the-sky ideal that could allow solar customers to entirely cut ties with the electrical grid, thereby avoiding net-metering and other regulatory pain. As it is, the grid fills in at nighttime and on cloudy days. Already, software-run energy management allows customers to see “in dollars and cents” the crux of their energy usage and then manipulate it for better economic value, Werner said. Adding storage is a game changer. “Solar is becoming a no brainer because it makes economic sense,” he said. Companies like Google ( GOOGL ), Amazon ( AMZN ), Microsoft ( MSFT ) and Facebook ( FB ) have figured that out, Bromley says. The quartet is among the country’s top solar users. Investor pressures will continue to push the Fortune 500 to renewable and sustainable futures, he said. Now, Bromley is waiting on a new tech that can gap up on renewable leaders solar and wind. Between 2016 and 2021, Bromley expects those sectors to install 18 GW and 19 GW, respectively, by far outpacing other renewables. But any new renewable innovation faces a steep uphill battle. “Any new tech needs to lobby support from the government and come up with an argument as to why we need a third cheap, clean tech,” he said. “Unless, it’s something that deals with intermittency issues.”
Alibaba ( BABA ) unnerved investors Wednesday by disclosing that the Securities and Exchange Commission is probing whether its accounting into its Singles Day event and various other practices violate U.S. securities laws. Shares of the e-commerce giant fell 6.8% to 75.59 on the stock market today , Alibaba’s worst one-day percentage loss since a 8.8% dive on Jan. 29, 2015. Alibaba dived below the 50-day moving average where the stock had found support in recent days. Alibaba fell as low as 74.12 intraday, nearly undercutting its 200-day line as well. Alibaba’s losses also took their toll on Yahoo ( YHOO ), which fell 5.2% Wednesday. Yahoo has sought bids for its core U.S. assets, but most of its value is in stakes of Alibaba and Yahoo Japan. IBD’s Take: How healthy is Alibaba’s stock, and how does it compare vs. key rivals such as Amazon? Find out at IBD Stock Checkup Alibaba reported the SEC probe in an SEC filing. Here is the key passage. “Earlier this year, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, or SEC, informed us that it was initiating an investigation into whether there have been any violations of the federal securities laws. The SEC has requested that we voluntarily provide it with documents and information relating to, among other things: our consolidation policies and practices (including our accounting for Cainiao Network as an equity method investee), our policies and practices applicable to related party transactions in general, and our reporting of operating data from Singles Day. We are voluntarily disclosing this SEC request for information and cooperating with the SEC and, through our legal counsel, have been providing the SEC with requested documents and information. The SEC advised us that the initiation of a request for information should not be construed as an indication by the SEC or its staff that any violation of the federal securities laws has occurred. This matter is ongoing, and, as with any regulatory proceeding, we cannot predict when it will be concluded.” Singles Day — Nov. 11 — has become the world’s largest e-commerce event, far above Cyber Monday or the new Amazon ( AMZN ) Prime Day last year. Alibaba had $13.7 billion in sales in last year’s event, with JD.com ( JD ) and other Chinese retailers also taking part. JD stock fell 3.4%, perhaps in sympathy with Alibaba. 020 Fuels China Internets Separately, Alibaba, Baidu ( BIDU ), Tencent ( TCEHY ) and other Chinese Internet companies should should see continued strong growth in online-to-offline spending, Moody’s says. Moody’s sees Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent, sometimes referred to as “BAT,” should deliver 15%-30% revenue growth over the next 12-18 months, partly due to O2O efforts that have increased customer engagement and monetization. Alibaba, Baidu and Tencent have spent billions of dollars on O2O-related initiatives in recent years. “For all three companies, we expect that their investments will remain high, as they establish or acquire end-to-end logistics capabilities,” Moody’s said.