McCombs Wins 2020 Ross RECC (Renewable Energy Case Competition)

By Jose Mendez, McCombs MBA 2022

Team SPAC Attack members Wes Straker (center left), Elise Gabriel (bottom left), Alex Giarratano (center) and Jose Mendez (top right) give their final-round presentation to a panel of judges.

For this year’s case competition, the prompt asked how power producers can improve energy equity for residential and commercial customers in a regional U.S. market while also aiding the transition to clean energy. The McCombs team in charge of tackling this challenge was made up of first-year MBA students Wes Straker, Alex Giarratano, Elise Gabriel, and Jose Mendez (McCombs MBA 2022).

Initially, our team took a wide look at potential domestic markets to determine who would most benefit from a transition to clean energy from fossil fuels. Through this research, we targeted areas with relatively high retail electricity costs for residential and commercial customers, adverse economic outcomes for the population relative to the rest of the country, and robust renewable energy generation potential.

From our investigation, we concluded that developing a utility-scale solar plus storage project on Navajo Nation best accomplished our goals. The proposed 400 MW solar-plus-storage facility would benefit the electrically underserved and economically challenged Navajo people by providing lasting jobs and distributed power to neglected areas of the reservation. Decommissioning of the region’s coal plants also provided incentives for renewable energy to take its place, creating opportunities to tie into electrical infrastructure already in place, thereby reducing interconnection and permitting costs. Additionally, the proposed solar-plus-storage project aligned well with a few regional utilities’ integrated resource plans (IRPs) targeting aggressive decarbonization and renewable energy goals within the next five to ten years.

From an initial pool of twenty-seven teams from top business schools across the country and abroad, sixteen were selected to move on to the semi-final presentation round. These presentations would be given to a panel of judges from diverse energy backgrounds as a part of the Ross Energy Week. The teams were evaluated on their ability to lay out a comprehensive project development plan, provide a rigorous economic rationale, and sufficiently address the judges’ questions on the proposal.

Our McCombs team was selected to move on to the final round of four to give one last pitch to a broader set of judges and the public the next day. To strengthen our proposal heading into the final round, we expanded upon the incentives for our project’s utility offtaker, bolstered the financial model and sensitivity analysis, further demonstrated the feasibility of solar projects on tribal lands and addressed some of the ways we could mitigate challenges presented by working with indigenous folks on tribal lands. After intense deliberations following the final presentations, the judges selected UT McCombs as the national champions for the second year in a row!

Although the remote nature of this year’s case competition presented an extra challenge, we were proud to take part in the experience and honored by the result. Last year, the McCombs CleanTech Group also secured first place, so that provided extra motivation for our team. The University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business brought together a formidable group of energy experts and sponsors that hosted a great event. Looking forward to seeing who will successfully defend our title again next year!

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