The Challenges of Investing in Sustainable Energy
A USC Marshall MBA Research Team Finds that Global Investment is Being Restricted by a Range of Factors, from Policy to Affordability

Marshall MBA students accompanied by Professor Voigt traveled to Japan to report on sustainability challenges and offer recommendations to 63 economic and political leaders who advise APEC on strategy.
From left to right – MBA candidates Binna Park, Ismael Correa , Spencer Cooke, Ketan Bakhshi, Cathy Kim (Team Lead), Matthew Basco, Raja Sekhar Pakkala, Min (Grace) Xu, Jyoti Gaur, Carl Voigt (Faculty Advisor), and MBA candidates Jacqueline Panganiban, Gabriel Tse.
A research team of USC Marshall MBA students has concluded that a sustainable world is not within immediate reach as issues surrounding unclear global policies, affordability, and myopia among political leaders and consumers are thwarting businesses from investing in sustainable energy.

The Marshall research team traveled to Yokohama, Japan, in mid-November to present its findings to an advisory council of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC). APEC is an organization focused on promoting free trade and furthering economic growth among its 21 member nations spanning four continents, from Australia to China and Russia, from Chile and Papua New Guinea to the United States and Canada. APEC is the world’s largest regional cooperative, in a region that accounts for approximately 40 percent of the world’s population and nearly half of the world’s GDP.

The Marshall team represents the only business school invited to share its findings with the APEC Business Advisory Council (ABAC), a collection of 63 economic and political leaders from each APEC nation, who meet to advise APEC on strategy.

In the team’s executive summary to APEC, the MBA students defined the issues that are creating a lack of confidence for investments in sustainable energy: "Policies push sustainable energy into the energy mix, rather than stimulating demand to pull sustainable energy into the market. Businesses lack clear price signals to inform investment decisions. Regulatory uncertainty discourages investments with long return horizons. Inertia in the form of myopia, misperception, and dulled motivation, at the economy, firm, and consumer levels creates resistance to change, and constrains solution-seeking to incremental improvements of known technologies rather than disruptive breakthrough innovations needed," the team wrote.

"Our research team traveled to 14 APEC economies and conducted 183 interviews with business leaders," said Cathy Kim, who led the MBA research group. "Our goal was to capture the voice of investors in sustainable energy."

According to Kim, businesses see a range of barriers for the investment landscape in sustainable energy. The barriers include high capital costs for start up, a relatively small market, low prices for products and uncertain international policies to support a strong move away from traditional fossil fuels.

"One of the multinational United States companies that we interviewed captured the concerns of many businesses," Kim said. "The company said, 'We are stuck in policies that have always supported [fossil fuel] energy."

The Marshall research team found that fossil fuel energy receives 12 times more subsidies than sustainable energy, by factoring in the actual production cost of fossil fuels and their carbon emissions. The team also concluded that the lack of storage solutions is an impediment to the development of renewable energy. Energy produced from solar or wind must be stored to meet the variable needs of consumers, and the infrastructure is not currently in place in the vast majority of APEC countries.

The team provided a series of recommendations to ABAC to create new investment opportunities for sustainable energy. Those recommendations included:

Create a collective sense of urgency to pull investment in sustainable energy
Move toward transparent, global prices for energy
Incentivize end consumers to use sustainable energy
Provide rewards for advances in basic research and storage technology
Encourage cross-border investments to create energy interdependence
For Carl Voigt, professor of clinical management and organization at USC Marshall who serves as faculty advisor for the research team, the recommendations provide ABAC with vital information to develop new strategies for encouraging the development of renewable energy.

"We encourage our students to cross boundaries to do research that will have an impact on global economic issues," Voigt said. "Our students are making a real difference at the policy level to make the world a better place."

About the USC Marshall School of Business
Consistently ranked among the nation's premier schools, USC Marshall is internationally recognized for its emphasis on entrepreneurship and innovation, social responsibility and path-breaking research. Located in the heart of Los Angeles, one of the world's leading business centers and the U.S. gateway to the Pacific Rim, Marshall offers its 5,500-plus undergraduate and graduate students a unique world view and impressive global experiential opportunities. With an alumni community spanning 90 countries, USC Marshall students join a worldwide community of thought leaders who are redefining the way business works.