Utilities face complex challenges in switching to clean energy that require creativity and problem solving. MBAs can help find innovative business solutions that take into account all the moving parts. Lauren Magin (MBA ‘21) Project Manager, Innovation and Entrepreneurship Center, NREL
The clean energy sector is growing and there is high demand for MBAs. While national energy policy remains fluid, the clean energy economy shows no signs of slowing down. As new technologies hit the market, and demand from corporations and consumers increases, there is a global race to hire talent with relevant skills.
The market advantages of being based in Colorado
The geography of Colorado, combined with state and regional policy, have made this an incredible location for clean energy companies. Colorado has both wind and solar resources which has led to significant investments in clean energy infrastructure. In 2004, Colorado also became the first state with a voter-approved Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS), which established a minimum percentage of renewable energy that utilities are required to sell. In 2020, Xcel Energy, Colorado’s largest utility, included 37% renewable energy on its grid, and has committed to 80% renewables by 2050. Colorado is also included in The Bureau of Land Management’s Solar Energy Program, which identifies Solar Energy Zones (SEZ) appropriate for large-scale projects.
This physical and political environment has led to renewable power development and jobs at all levels of the sector. Colorado today is home to innovative companies including Scout Clean Energy, Catalyze Energy, Schneider Electric, FTI, Uplight, Guidehouse, Invenergy, WSP USA, Optera, Anthesis Group and NREL, among others, all of which have Leeds MBAs on staff. That concentration of talent, in turn, creates another reason for clean energy companies to base themselves in the state.
“There is a large concentration of renewable energy specialists in the Front Range - ranging from developers, independent power producers (IPPs), consultants and bankers. Having those resources at our front door is invaluable,” says Jim Rohman, Director of Finance at Catalyze Energy.
Where is the next wave of growth going to come from?
During a recent program at the Leeds School of Business, leaders from Scout Clean Energy noted plans to develop in-house battery storage solutions, among other initiatives. Peter Swank, Global Renewable Energy Strategy Manager, Schneider Electric (SE), shared that he also believes that the next wave of innovation will be in technologies such as battery storage. SE is also working on carbon capture technologies, and optimizing the current renewable energy resource mix with new grid control and distributed energy resources (DERs) strategies.
Those emerging technologies are linked to opportunities for “increased work with large companies for full decarbonization (Scope 1-3) and expanding to support smaller corporates in their climate journeys,” Peter says.
Roles for MBAs in the clean energy transition
Leeds MBAs are working in many roles in the industry including strategic planning, cost modeling and analysis, business development, research, sustainability consulting, deal structure and more. Blair Simpson (MBA ‘21), Principal at Frontier Venture Capital, believes that there is a need for trained business professionals in the field.
“Just as we need technological innovation, we need market innovation,” Blair says. “Advancing renewable energy penetration requires business leaders who understand how to deliver value to customers who should have access to affordable, reliable, sustainable energy. Business leaders have the power to bring greater transparency and efficiency to the marketplace by offering consumers new ways to buy and sell energy, de-risking investment in renewables, leveraging the power of big data, and expanding access to new markets.”
Lauren Magin (MBA ‘21), Project Manager, Innovation and Entrepreneurship Center, NREL, agrees that the clean energy transition needs MBAs. “When I finished engineering school, I was so eager to put solar panels everywhere, but I didn't have a good understanding of the policy or business side of things. Leeds helped me understand how different stakeholders come into play and how to think strategically looking into a clean energy future. As an MBA, I think having a good understanding of technical, policy and business aspects of the energy industry makes me stand out.”
Jim Rohman encourages current MBA students to talk to as many people in the industry as possible to better understand the different roles and “determine what line of the business you are most suited for. From that point it's easier to make plans to enter the renewables field on the most appropriate path.”
“You don’t need to work for a renewable energy company to be in renewable energy,” Craig Konz adds. “Every sector has a position that deals with renewable energy, and every company needs experts in sustainability strategy, renewable energy procurement, etc.”
The Clean Energy Pathway
Learn more about CESR’s Clean Energy Pathway programming designed to help prepare graduate students with the skills, knowledge and networks they need to make a contribution to this industry on the CESR event page.