May 21, 2019
In New Tepper Energy Course, Students Solve Real-World Market Challenges
By Jessica Keast
Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business offered a new course this semester that exposed graduate students to the challenges of the modern electricity market. The mini-course, ‘Management in Electric Power Systems & Electricity Markets’ was highly favored.
Taught by Panayiotis Moutis, a systems scientist at the Wilton E. Scott Institute for Energy Innovation at Carnegie Mellon, students learn about topics such as electricity market deregulation and the streams of profits and savings in electric power systems.
“The course helps students understand the roles of the major entities in electricity markets such as operators, regulators, and customers,” Moutis said. “It offers students a concise, current, and progressive point of view and a basic overview of important stakeholder relationships and interactions.”
The class culminates in a final project that asks students to tackle one of six real-world problems posed by industry experts and academics in the field. Students have to imagine what duties they might be expected to perform as a project manager.
“For example,” Moutis explains, “if you want to build a solar plant, you need to know what the standards are for the equipment, what you will be paid and how the actual systems will affect the market.”
He wants students to imagine how they might position themselves in relation to the client as a leader in the field.
While the course does not necessarily create a mock environment, it allows students to explore the same challenges, solutions and justifications that they would be wrestling with in the “real world.”
Students are evaluated based on how they interact with any problems that arise during the course of the project and how effectively they are able to convince operators to invest in their proposed solution. After working on their projects for just over one week, they present to Moutis, their classmates, and volunteers in the industry and facilitate questions posed by classmates. Moutis hopes this too will better prepare students for careers in the field by allowing them to practice responding to questions from other players.
Nicholas Alexander, a graduate Tepper student in the course, explains that Moutis’ course “is one of those rare classes that intertwines business management principles with the technical operations to deliver a multi-disciplinary study of the subject.”
Alexander, who is on the Energy Business track, added he “appreciated the opportunity this course provided for the cross-pollination of ideas and perspectives between the College of Engineering and Tepper.”
Alexander’s background is in wind energy manufacturing. As a result, he says he found the course coverage of transmission infrastructure network optimization and locational marginal pricing to be informative and helped him understand what happens to power downstream in the system.
For his final project, Alexander undertook how independent power producers can increase the long-term profitability of wind projects through exercising market power in the form of Corporate Power Purchase Agreements. Moutis said all of the students including Alexander pitched strong solutions for their individual challenges and all projects were met with positive feedback as well as interested questions from the room.
“I will be interning with ICF this summer in their Commercial Electricity Markets team," said Poorna Mujumdar, an Energy Science, Technology and Policy graduate student in the class. "Panos' course played a direct role in helping me crack my interviews, given the similarity between my role in the internship and the syllabus of the course."
Moutis said the student’s stellar performance has raised the bar for future offerings of the course, which he plans to revamp to be even more interactive and stimulate deeper discussion.
This class was just one of two mini-courses that Moutis taught this semester. The other, ‘Steady State Operation & Economic Management,’ dealt mostly with how the electricity markets are formulated and operated while minimizing the cost of planning and operation; it will be offered again in Fall 2019 as ‘Optimization Applications in Power Systems.’
Tepper will offer ‘Management in Electric Power Systems & Electricity Markets’ again during the first half of the Spring 2020 semester as a "Mini 3" course.
Outside of the classroom, Moutis’ current work at the Scott Institute involves the development and demonstration of a distributed, agent-based control system to integrate smart inverters, energy storage and commercial off-the-shelf home automation controllers and smart thermostats.