6 April 2022
The Columbia Energy Case Competition ran for the first time this year as part of the 17th Annual Columbia University Energy Symposium. The event is an annual one-day conference run by the Columbia Business School, Energy and Infrastructure Club, Green Business Club, Climate School, and Law School. It is the largest student-run energy event in New York City, bringing together hundreds of energy professionals, students, faculty, and leaders. The case competition was presented in the middle of the day.
What made you apply?
I came across the competition as a shared post on LinkedIn. Through my course, I have developed a strong interest in energy markets, policy, and risk, so therefore I was interested in the conference. When registering for the event, I noticed the case competition advertised alongside the event. It aimed at bringing graduate school students together to tackle the problem of climate change, with the finalists receiving the opportunity to present at the conference on the following Friday, where the winners would receive a cash prize.
The opportunity to present at a conference was something I was excited about. The case topic, revolving around the energy transition, perfectly aligned with our course and my background. Therefore, I spoke to three colleagues on the course who shared a similar interest in the energy sector, and we entered as a team the day before the case was revealed.
Answering the case study
On receiving the case study, teams had five days to complete the question and submit their answer. At first read, it was clear that this was a very in-depth case that would require a lot of work to answer comprehensively.
The task before us was split into two parts: firstly, to develop a global framework that utilities can use to decarbonise their operations by 80% before 2035. Once this framework was developed, teams then had to calculate New York State's emissions and apply their framework to the state, demonstrating how we would envisage the framework decarbonising the state. The submitted case had to focus on eight key criteria:
- Carbon capture
- Carbon emissions calculation
- Demand-side behaviour
- Energy delivery (infrastructure requirements)
- Energy generation
- Supply-side behaviour
- Utility programmes
We approached the task by developing a three-point framework encompassing the above criteria. I developed most of the group's policy, focusing on using technology to reduce peak demand on the grid and create financial incentives that would create value for all grid users both on the supply and demand side. Once we had developed the framework and applied it to New York State, we had to summarise our case study on 12 slides that we would use to present if we made the final.
Winning and presenting at the conference
The case was submitted late on Tuesday night (GMT to Eastern Time difference was not ideal!), and teams would be informed by Thursday at the latest if they had made the final on Friday. The team received an initial email on Wednesday congratulating us on making the final, and to prepare our presentation. However, late Thursday night, we received a second email explaining that our case was significantly more comprehensive and punctual than the other entries. Therefore, the judges had declared us winners!
Obviously, we were ecstatic as a group and couldn't believe what had happened. However, we couldn't quite celebrate yet as we had to prepare our presentation and prepare ourselves for a Q&A.
After spending the rest of Friday preparing our presentation, we presented to over 50 people on Friday afternoon. We had a very constructive Q&A with the organisers and representatives from the New York Power Authority (NYPA) and Young Professionals in Energy (YPE). Although daunting at first, the Columbia team was forthcoming and welcoming, making this opportunity enjoyable and leaving the team with invaluable experience. The skills and knowledge I had learnt throughout my course at Edinburgh were particularly applicable in the Q&A with industry experts.
This was a brilliant experience that I would recommend to anyone doing a similar degree. Although it was challenging having to sacrifice a lot of time for competition while managing university assignments, it was well worth it for the experience. I learnt new ideas about energy management and policy that I wouldn't have without the project, and was able to challenge myself through presenting in a new environment at a conference. Green Generation would like to thank Columbia University Energy and Infrastructure Club for organising the competition, and NYPA and YPE for sponsoring the event.
Joseph Miles is studying for an MSc in Climate Change Finance and Investment.