Huilai Gu, ‘19, left, shakes hands with Parth Vaishnav, an assistant research professor at Carnegie Mellon University, on Nov. 14 at the Royal Sonesta Hotel in Houston, Texas. Gu, Aditya Jayasinghe, '19, and Salvador Tarun, '18, formed the Lehigh team that placed second in the USAEE case competition. (Courtesy of Huilai Gu)

Lehigh students take second place at energy economics conference

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A team of Lehigh undergraduate students took second place at the 35th annual North American conference of the United States Association for Energy Economics, or USAEE and International Association of Energy Economics in Houston, Texas. 

The majority of teams at the conference consisted of doctoral candidates and graduate students, according to the USAEE website. Lehigh’s was the only undergraduate team to be invited to the conference and received second place overall, beating out doctoral candidate teams from the University of Paris-Saclay and Carnegie Mellon University.

Lehigh team members Huilai Gu, ’19, Aditya Jayasinghe, ’19, and Salvador Tarun, ’18, walked away with a $2,000 prize for their work in the USAEE case competition.

The case competition is an annual contest in which student teams from around the world are given a case problem they must solve over a period of three weeks. The teams then submit a detailed report outlining the methods they used and their solutions to the problem.

The top three teams are asked to present their results at the USAEE/IAEE North American Conference located in a different U.S. state each year.

“For the competition, we were asked to become consultants for a big oil investment company,” Tarun said. “In the wake of all the different changes that came with the Paris Accords for climate change, we needed to advise this big oil company on the best course of action they should take to keep up with the changing times as well as what these changes would mean for production costs.” 

Tarun said participating in the case competition was an exciting process and provided an opportunity for the team to research existing companies, such as ExxonMobil and BP, to see their different reactions to the Paris Agreement.

The USAEE chapter was established at Lehigh in 2013 for students interested in energy economics who might not necessarily be studying the topic in school.

Jayasinghe said he has always had a passion for energy and economics.

“I joined the USAEE chapter at Lehigh in hopes of finding a professional outlet for the crossover between my education and my passion for renewable energy,” he said.

Gu said the team decided to compete because of the variety of skills and strengths its members could bring to the competition.

Jayasinghe is a material science engineering and economics double major in the Integrated Business and Engineering, or IBE, program. Tarun is an electrical engineer and Gu is a chemical engineering major in the IBE program. Gu said this diversity in their studies served as a major strength in the competition.

“Going through the competition was a huge learning opportunity for me as well,” Gu said. “Even as a chemist who has paid a lot of attention to a lot of energy topics, this was still way out of the realm of what I’ve studied in class.”

Alberto Lamadrid, an assistant professor of economics, said he provided the students with resources and guidance, but they ultimately did the majority of the work independently.

“That’s one of the wonderful things about Lehigh students,” Lamadrid said. “You give them an idea and they grow with it to make it into something extraordinary.”

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