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News ENEP PhD Students Win First Prize in Energy Economics

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Two PhD candidates in the Energy and Environmental Policy Program, Nabil Al-Abbas and Joseph Nyangon have won the 2016 United States Association for Energy Economics (USAEE) and the International Association for Energy Economics (IAEE) Case Competition which took place at the 34th USAEE/IAEE North American Conference in Tulsa, Oklahoma from October 23-26, 2016. The USAEE/IAEE Case competition is a top annual team-based competition focused on energy economics. It is open to teams from top academic and research-based institutions in the U.S.


“I am very pleased that we have brought this distinguished award in energy economics to the University of Delaware for the first time,” said Nyangon, a fourth-year PhD student studying electric power sector operations, regulation, and new business models in the U.S. electricity market with a focus on the ‘utility of the future’ under Dr. John Byrne. “What I enjoyed most was the experience of working on a critical real-world energy problem under a strict deadline and the pressure to produce a high-quality McKinsey-style business report and presentation for the client.”


The competition was organized by the USAEE/IAEE in collaboration with NRG Energy and the Ministry of Energy, Industry and Mineral Resources in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) to evaluate the costs and benefits of renewable energy transition in a high oil dependent economy in Middle East, particularly in KSA by developing infrastructure-scale utility solar solution.


“I was proud when we were selected as the top three finalists last July,” said Al-Abbas, a fourth-year PhD student sponsored by Saudi Aramco and studying electricity market challenges in Saudi Arabia with a focus on identifying pathways toward sustainable electricty supply and demand using an integrated resource strategic planning approach under Dr. Lado Kurdgelashvili. “I am even more proud now that we have won the overall competition against some of the best universities. It is a testament to our talent and the hard work we have put into this competition for more than seven months.”


Nyangon and Al-Abbas’s prize-winning solution, “Techno-economic modeling and sensitivity analysis of costs and benefits of renewable energy transition for Saudi Arabia,” looks at the question of whether attaining over 70% of renewable electricity generation in the country through an ambitious integrated decarbonization strategy of the electric power system is technically, economically, and fundamentally viable. “Our key objective of participating in this top international competition was to work on a demanding energy economics problem, present realistic solution to a panel of distinguished experts, and win this prestigious award,” Al-Abbas added.


Previous winners of the USAEE/IAEE prize include MIT; Carnegie Mellon University; University of California, Berkeley; Stanford University; the University of California, Davis, among others. “I am thrilled, though not surprised, that the USAEE/IAEE selected Joe and Nabeel for this very important award,” said Dr. Byrne, a Distinguished Professor and Director of the Center for Energy and Environmental Policy (CEEP) at the University of Delaware. “This is just as good as it gets!” This award illustrates the importance of interdisciplinary focus of our program in knowledge areas such as economics, engineering, and policy analysis, says Dr. Syed Ismat, Director of the Energy and Environmental Policy Program. “This is great news.”


The competition is sponsored by the King Abdullah Petroleum Studies & Research Center (KAPSARC) and is designed to challenge the skills required of an energy economist employed in industry or consulting: working with a team within a limited time frame, extracting and investigating the relevant details from a complex issue offering limited data, and presenting a cogent analytical solution in a succinct format. Participating teams are assigned the role of consultants and are given a tasking memo along with several hundred pages of associated documentation (reports, news articles, raw data, and academic papers). They are given three weeks to return a 20-page report summarizing their analysis and conclusions. A panel of judges assesses each paper and selects three teams to present their results at a special concurrent session during the annual USAEE/IAEE conference.


This year, the three teams with the best solutions invited to present their results in Tulsa, Oklahoma were from the University of Delaware, Carnegie Mellon University, and the University of California, Davis. Additionally, nearly fifty academic researchers on fifteen teams participated in the competition, representing some of the best universities from around the world. The panel of judges included Prof. Lester Hunt from the University of Surrey/KAPSARC; Dr. Michael Canes, former President of the USAEE and Distinguished Fellow with the Logistics Management Institute (LMI); and Walid Matar of KAPSARC.


Each year, an entirely new question is created. Energy questions covered in the last five years addressed a variety of topics such as how to quickly raise demand for natural gas in Pennsylvania, developing a business model for a fictitious utility company in California facing uncertain electricity growth from a rise in electric vehicle charging, financing improvements in energy intensity, among others. This year, the competition focused on solving energy crisis in Saudi Arabia. In addition to addressing an important topic, this question was chosen to fit the potential of renewables in the country in the contexts of depressed oil prices and falling renewable energy costs. Teams were asked to design a mechanism that would balance important elements such as return on investment, discount rate, and net present value; the benefits of decarbonizing electric power generation and water desalination sectors; and the need for a detailed and balanced analysis of economic, social and environmental benefits of energy transition to cleaner economy.

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Nabil Al-Abbas and Joseph Nyangon have won the 2016 United States Association for Energy Economics (USAEE) and the International Association for Energy Economics (IAEE) Case Competition in Tulsa, Oklahoma

Nabil Al-Abbas and Joseph Nyangon have won the 2016 United States Association for Energy Economics (USAEE) and the International Association for Energy Economics (IAEE) Case Competition in Tulsa, Oklahoma

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