It’s an engineer’s job to solve the complex problems of the world. From climate change to prosthetic limbs to autonomous vehicles, this change is often gradual and involves hundreds of engineers working for decades to contribute even a fraction of their proposed solutions. It is rare that a single researcher, or even a team of researchers, tackle an entire problem from start to finish. But that is exactly what the United States Association for Energy Economics (USAEE) Case Competition asked participants to do.
Participants were asked to create a plan for the installation of renewable energy in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), with the goal of making the country less domestically dependent on oil moving forward.
“In order to lead Saudi Arabia into a more renewable future,” explains team member Raafe Khan, “we proposed a complete restructuring of the energy market to introduce wholesale competition between subsidiaries of the Saudi electric system, rather than the current, vertically integrated market.” Khan, an Energy Science, Technology and Policy (EST&P) master’s student, continues, “This will bring in foreign institutional investors, while creating additional capacity to meet supply and demand. It puts Saudi Arabia as a market leader in climate change mitigation across the globe, and is very economically viable.”
Joining Khan on the team were Engineering and Technology Innovation Management (E&TIM) master’s students Pritham Aravind, Stephanie Beels, Suyash Kela, and Apratim Vidyarthi. The team, known as the Pittsburgh Pascals, determined that the KSA should adopt a mixed energy portfolio, relying primarily on solar and natural gas, with a small amount of oil, nuclear, wind, and geothermal energy thrown in. Their plan is holistic, covering everything from the exact size and placement of solar panels, all the way up to the governmental regulations that will make implementation possible. In total, the team projects their plan, if followed to the letter, could create approximately 1 million jobs, provide nearly $119 billion in net profit, and reduce C02 emissions 1 billion tons by 2032.
The impressive solution earned the team first place in the 34th Annual USAEE/IAEE North American Conference in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
“Thanks to the competition, we were able to present our plan to individuals who have worked for the Department of Energy, the Obama and Bush administrations, the Department of the Interior, and to key members of Saudi Aramco, Saudi Arabia’s primary oil company and energy provider, and the key company stakeholder in the competition,” says Aravind. “Getting a chance to network with people who are going to make a difference and bask in their collective wisdom was an invaluable experience.”
This marks the second year in a row that a Carnegie Mellon team has won the $2,500 top prize in the USAEE Case Competition. The team would like to thank last year’s winner Engineering and Public Policy doctoral student Erin Mayfield, along with Assistant Professor Daniel Armanios and Professor of the Practice Deborah Stine for all of their help. They would also like to congratulate the team from the University of Delaware, with whom they tied for first place. “We’ve learned through this process that there’s no silver bullet for these kinds of big problems,” Khan says. “There can be more than one solution. We tried to triage on a particular solution that would bring the greatest benefits. The interdisciplinary nature of the team helped us to tackle this problem from all sides and, I think, is what really took us across the finish line.