HBS 1164. Twenty-First Century Energy

This course offers students the opportunity to develop a business-focused understanding of energy in the 21st Century. Following the “value chain” of energy - from upstream production to downstream consumption - the course provides practical insight into how business models are being shaped by global market trends, regulatory contexts, and emerging technologies.

Using cases as the basis for most class discussions, the course exposes students to the major economic, technological, and regulatory trends that are creating change within the energy value chain. In-class discussions will explore the implications of these change vectors for energy-related businesses in the 21st Century. Case analyses will teach students analytical frameworks and tools for assessing the business potential of various energy innovations, and how to separate hype from substance.

HBS students who take the course are generally interested in careers as managers or entrepreneurs in the energy sector, as financial experts in energy or infrastructure investment, or as management consultants. Historically, about one-third of the students who take the course have backgrounds in engineering, one-third in economics, and the remainder is mixed (political science, physics, etc).

Although the course attracts a number of students who have prior work experience in the energy industry, energy neophytes can also thrive in the course, as tutorials and supplementary readings are available, on request. Grading is 50% based on participation and 50% based a class project.

The course’s three modules roughly follow the energy value-chain:

  • The first module provides students with insight into the various forms of energy extraction and transformation, with cases exposing students to dilemmas related to: 1) oil and gas (eg - oil sands extraction, pipelines, refining, fracking); 2) coal (eg - CO2 emissions, coal-to-liquids); 3) nuclear (eg - Gen III, SMR), 4) renewables (eg - hydro, wind, solar, biomass); and 5) the energy-water nexus.
  • The second module examines electricity transmission and distribution - with specific attention to how decisions are made regarding investment and management of assets. Starting with an understanding of how traditional electrical utilities were organized in the 20th century, the module considers how they have been transformed (eg - by deregulation, renewables, micro-grids, and peer-to-peer trading), and examines resultant opportunities.
  • The third module exposes students to business models related to how energy is consumed and how demand is managed. Specific attention is given to disruptors - negawatts, inexpensive batteries, ride-sharing, and IoT - and to related new business opportunities and threats (eg - cybersecurity risks).



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  • [Course titles in brackets] indicate that the course is not scheduled to be taught during the 2020-2021 academic year, but may be offered in an alternate year.
  • An asterisk (*) before a course number indicates that a student must obtain the instructor's permission in order to enroll in the course.

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