21st Century Energy - Harvard Business School MBA Program

21st Century Energy

Course Number 1164

Professor Forest L. Reinhardt
Senior Fellow Joseph B. Lassiter
Senior Lecturer Martha J. Crawford
Fall; Q1Q2; 3.0 credits
28 Sessions
Exam

Career Focus

The course is for students who intend to participate, as managers, capital providers, or consultants, in companies involved in supplying energy services to households, firms, and other customers. It will also benefit students who may work for firms in energy-intensive or energy-related industries, including transportation companies, vehicle manufacturers, and suppliers to producers of oil, gas, and electricity. The cases in the course cover both traditional energy sources (oil, gas, coal, and hydro) and new “clean” energy sources like solar energy, bioenergy, and wind.

Educational Objectives

Without the heat, light, power, and mobility provided by suppliers of energy, the modern economy simply could not function. But energy prices are often highly volatile, and energy firms are subject to pervasive government intervention, especially when value chains cross international borders. Climate externalities are now increasing in prominence, further complicating the strategic choices both of incumbent firms and of would-be disruptors.

The course is intended to provide students with a basic understanding of the microeconomics and politics of energy and adjacent industries. It is impossible to make sense of strategy in energy industries without thinking about politics and government policy, but this does not mean that the normal preoccupations of strategists- the shape of the supply curves, the magnitude and durability of barriers to entry, and so on- are any less important. Further, too many conversations about energy are divorced from basic numerical facts about quantities and prices, or dependent on misconceptions about the nature of the markets and the externalities that pervade them.

The course is also intended to introduce students to some of the unusual challenges of strategy and leadership that arise from these externalities and from pervasive government interventions in energy markets. Surely business leaders cannot afford to ignore politics, yet basing a strategy on government policy seems precarious, at best. We examine some modern attempts to come to grips with these challenges, some successful, some less so.

Finally, the course introduces some enduring ideas about innovation and entrepreneurship as these apply to the energy field. We will examine examples of how such large multinational “incumbents, active in various parts of the energy value chain, approach innovation. And we will analyze the behavior of a number of innovative start-ups to see how the economics and politics of energy create opportunities, and how they complicate entrepreneurs’ efforts to get their firms off the ground.

We will examine both the supply side and the demand side of energy markets, with an emphasis on supply. We will look both at transportation fuels and at electricity and electricity inputs (gas, coal, nuclear, hydro, wind). Geographic coverage will be global, with half the cases set outside the US.

Among them, the professors have taught the RC courses on Strategy, BGIE, LCA, and Entrepreneurial Management. This course draws ideas from all four of those courses.

Course Content and Organization

The course consists of three long modules, each taught mostly by one of the three professors, and each focusing on a different perspective on the energy industries. They are listed below with representative cases:

Microeconomics and Politics (Reinhardt)

  • The US Shale Revolution;
  • Chilean Electricity Supply;
  • Coal and Electricity in China;
  • Reform of Energy Regulations in Mexico

Strategy and Leadership (Crawford)

  • Elon Musk’s Big Bets;
  • Schneider Electric: Global Specialist in Energy Management;
  • AEP: Challenges of Distributed Generation;
  • Smart Neighborhoods at Bouyges

New Entrants and Adaptation (Lassiter)

  • The US Department of Energy and the Recovery Act;
  • Husk Power;
  • TerraPower;
  • OPower

While most of our classes will be case-based, we may also invite guest lecturers from other Harvard schools and from business, government, and journalism.