Haas Takes Second in Macedonia with Affordable Solar Plan

A Haas team won second place and high praise from judges at the International Renewable Energy Case Challenge in Macedonia in June for their pragmatic plan to ease the Eastern European nation’s looming energy crisis.

Christy Martell and Jeff Olson, both MBA 10, and teammate Taj Walton, BS 10 (Environmental Economics), wrote a business plan to make solar thermal systems—a tried and true technology for home water heating—affordable to Macedonians through leasing.

“The leasing structure was our major innovation,” says Martell. “It would speed up the rollout because people wouldn’t have to purchase the systems up front, which is essential in a country where incomes are low.”

One of the guidelines in the inaugural competition was that the proposals be sustainable and immediately applicable in an emerging economy. Judges commented that the Haas team’s plan was the only one that was ready to go, Martell says.

Macedonia receives 70 percent of its power from a local thermal plant that will run dry by 2015. Though the country has a well-educated and skilled workforce, its development efforts are stymied by its limited energy supply.

Martell says that the team’s six-day trip, which included visits to the geothermal plant as well as a coal plant and other facilities, made it clear that finding sustainable sources of energy is key to Macedonia's future. “Energy is a huge bottleneck for them because they can’t grow industry without it,” she says.

The case competition was organized by Investors Beyond Borders, a student group headquartered at the University of Toronto that fosters investment in technologies to reduce dependence on non-renewable fuels. The Haas team beat out U.S. rivals in March to win $3,000 and the trip to Macedonia, but the Toronto team prevailed in the final round with a plan for a large-scale power plant based on new technology combining solar, wind, and geothermal.

Martell and Olson have both taken positions with Bloom Energy, a Sunnyvale fuel-cell manufacturer.