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Case study

This is an example of the kind of case study you would receive in an interview at Port Jackson Partners. In this exercise, you will answer a series of questions as the case unfolds. You will then be able to view an example answer before moving on to the next question.

Introduction

It is important to note that most case study questions do not have a single correct answer - in addition to testing your quantitative skills, your interviewer will be interested in how you arrive at your answer and how you structure your thoughts. A live case study is much more interactive than this example, and typically takes 30 mins to complete.

Question 1

Your client has an option to invest in a new electricity generation plant. What kinds of analyses would help you assess whether the investment should be made?

ANSWER

Suggested answer:

There are many considerations to be made before making an investment. A good answer would include some of the following analyses:

  • Current demand for electricity and forecast growth, including the impact of possible structural shifts such as electric vehicles, energy efficiency measures, and domestic solar panels
  • Future changes to supply, including new plants planned by competitors and likely closures of old plants
  • An estimate of future electricity prices, in light of probable changes to supply and demand
  • Costs required to establish and operate the plant, and its relative cost competitiveness compared to existing and new competitors
  • The ability to secure customer relationships, and so the ability to sell the plants output to customers
  • Impact of potential industry changes on revenues and or costs. For example, the introduction of a carbon trading scheme or changes to renewable energy targets

Question 2

Estimate total annual energy use in Australia. You do not need to get a precise answer - use ballpark estimates as needed and work through the components of usage on a whiteboard or piece of paper. You may find the following hints helpful:

  • Electricity usage is measured in Watt hours (Wh), which equals demand (Watts) x time (hours)
  • 30% of electricity usage comes from households
  • Typical off peak residential demand is split evenly between hot water, cooling/heating and other uses
  • At peak times (~6 hours per day), electricity demand for heating/cooling and other uses increases by 66%
  • Demand for hot water is consistent throughout the day, at ~300W per household
ANSWER

Example answer:

Average household off peak demand = Heating/cooling + hot water + other = 3 x 300 W = 900 W

Average household peak demand = 300W + 2 x 500W =1,300W

Average household demand = 0.25 x 900W + 0.75 x 1,300W = 1,000W

Total Australian households = 7.5M (Household size ~3 people)

Average total residential demand =7,500MW

Average total Australian demand = 7,500MW / 30% = 25GW

Total annual Australian usage = 25GW x 24h x 365 days = 25GW x ~9,000h = ~220,000GWh per annum

Question 3

Current committed capacity is around 2MW above peak demand, whilst peak demand is growing at 1MW per annum. What does this mean for future prices and whether or not our client should invest?

ANSWER

Suggested answer:

Without further investment, peak demand would grow beyond the available generation capacity. This would create shortages of electricity in peak periods and lead to higher prices.

Other potential generators are aware of future demand requirements and are also likely to consider investing in new capacity.

Before investing, our client should consider competitors' intentions and how they would react to others' decisions to invest.

Question 4

Your analysis of the client's best investment option indicates that the expected value of the project is only just 'break even'. There is significant uncertainty, however, about many key assumptions, including electricity prices. Under what conditions would you recommend that our client invest in the plant?

ANSWER

The decision to invest depends on your assessment of the range of likely outcomes.

If, for example, electricity prices are unlikely to fall, and could increase dramatically it is worth taking steps to ensure you are in a position to capture this potential upside.

You may be able to recommend a smaller investment now - perhaps a smaller first stage plant - which secures the right to expand the plant later when conditions are more certain.

If you do not need to take action now to secure the right to invest in the future, and you can construct the new plant relatively quickly, it may be best to defer the investment until conditions improve.

Question 5

Given significant uncertainty around future electricity and carbon prices, your analysis of the client's best investment option indicates that the project would only just break even (NPV close to zero). Would you recommend that they invest?

ANSWER

Suggested answer:

  • No-it would be better to wait for uncertainty around price to be resolved before making an investment in the project. At present, the option to invest is worth more than the value of investing today.
  • Whilst the option to invest in the future has value today, it could become worthless if competitors invest before our client decides to do so. As price uncertainty is resolved, our client should continue to monitor the attractiveness of their investment case and the probability of others investing

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