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Energy-Focused MBA Programs Drive Innovation In Renewables

Top business schools are developing energy management programs with big business to drive innovation and sustainable solutions to combat rising consumption.

By  Seb Murray

Wed Mar 18 2015

Top-tier business schools are launching more MBA programs focused on the energy sector to plug a talent hole. As more energy companies tap managers to keep the lights on, those with specialist knowledge are finding more job opportunity.

George Andrews, associate dean of degree programs at Jones Graduate School of Business in the US, says: “As the industry grows, we have seen an increasing demand for individuals who have the skills to understand the complexities of a large and expanding market.”

Jones at Rice University in Houston, Texas, is one of a growing number of high-ranking schools that service the energy market despite challenging market conditions.

The price of crude oil has fallen drastically in recent months but this has not stemmed the flow of students into energy-focused business school courses.

“The turbulence and uncertainty we have seen recently doesn’t alter the challenges of providing sustainable energy that’s used efficiently across both mature markets and the developing economies,” says David Elmes, head of the Global Energy MBA at the UK’s Warwick Business School.

Warwick’s energy-focused MBA, which is three years in length, costs £12,000 for year one.

Warwick and Jones are early movers, along with Duke’s Fuqua School of Business which runs an MBA concentration in Energy and the Environment.

Other leading business schools have more recently launched specialist energy degrees.

These include Canada’s Sauder School of Business which recently announced plans to run an EMBA in strategic mining management, and Nairobi’s Strathmore University.

Both schools have developed their content with big business – Sauder with Goldcorp, the world’s largest gold miner by market capitalization, and Strathmore with National Oil Corporation, the state-owned oil major.

They and others have to adapt to changing market conditions – from rising global consumption and falling commodity prices to the US shale gas revolution and the rise of renewables.

“Renewables investment has created large numbers of jobs in the renewables sector,” says Michael Pollitt, a professor at the UK’s Cambridge Judge Business School who specializes in energy issues.

The number of people working in wave, wind and tidal energy was forecast to grow from around 34,000 in 2014 to more than 52,000 by 2023, according to industry body EU Skills.

Cambridge offers an Energy & Environment concentration within its MBA, graduates of which have been hired by energy groups including Total, General Electric and BP.

Other top business schools have opted for specializations rather than full courses. These include the McCombs School of Business, based in Texas, which offers an Energy Finance track.

With rising global demand for energy, the industry’s focus is shifting to innovation and like many business schools, McCombs is following suit. It has a degree that includes an entire course on non-technical exploration and production, which covers the technologies used to produce oil and gas.

“All of the technology change that makes things cheaper and more efficient is what drives the bottom line,” says John Butler, associate professor at McCombs' Energy Management and Innovation Center.

Warwick looks at concepts such as network innovation applied in the energy industry, as well as new services that help consumers to use energy more efficiently, according to David.

The MBA in Energy Management at the University of Aberdeen in the UK includes two modules that focus on innovation – business model innovation and future energies, according to Russell Williams, director of the program.

He says that companies’ long-term prosperity is dependent on innovation of business models, as economic weakness in Europe and Japan and sluggish global growth contribute to the current oil price plunge.

Whilst the price of oil is having a negative effect on many energy groups, he insists it has not taken a toll on the program's enrollment numbers. “Applications for the next entry are buoyant,” he says.

This may be because individuals who are displaced see current market conditions as an opportunity to develop their skills – a similar scenario came about during the global financial crisis – and companies see it as an opportunity to retain talent.

That might explain why a flurry of business schools recently launched programs designed for experienced energy sector workers.

UW College of Business, for instance, said it would launch an energy concentration in its MBA that can be completed online, designed for students who are already working in the energy industry.

While the oil and gas sector suffers from lower crude prices business schools may profit from managers who want to ride out the storm.

David at Warwick says that the energy industry is at a crossroads, as countries try to switch to low-carbon economies. “That brings new opportunities, though we may see some traditional roles fall by the way side,” he adds.