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Power apprentices

Energy Analysis and Policy certificate a plus for students and community

Winter 2016

Introduction by Jenny Peek, Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies
Capstone stories by Silke Schmidt, Wisconsin Energy Institute

 

The demand for increasingly efficient, environmentally friendly energy is expanding, and with that comes a need for trained experts, ready to tackle a rapidly changing field and balance the tradeoffs of today’s multifaceted energy landscape.

Enter the Nelson Institute’s Energy Analysis and Policy (EAP) certificate, open to students in any UW-Madison graduate degree program, from engineering to law to urban and regional planning.

“The curriculum is constantly
being revised to adapt – not
just to what is happening now,
but to set up graduates with the
skills that will be useful in several
years. EAP will continue to be
based on addressing real-world
problems, and the capstone
projects will continue to provide
hands-on training.”

EAP students gain a leg-up in the energy sector, with the knowledge and skills needed to become leaders in a range of fields. The program’s interdisciplinary curriculum spans the scientific, technical, economic, political and social factors shaping energy policy formulation and decision-making, covering topics like market structures, public utilities, environmental impacts and demand for energy services.

“Since the program began in 1980, our nearly 200 alumni have gone on to do great things across the country and the world,” says EAP Chair Greg Nemet, an associate professor of environmental studies and public affairs. Graduates work for energy producers, environmental organizations, consulting companies, universities, research labs, state public service commissions and more.

EAP strives to provide students with practical, problem-solving experiences. All students take a capstone course, working in teams with real-life clients to analyze and offer solutions to pressing energy challenges.

“The curriculum is constantly being revised to adapt – not just to what is happening now, but to set up graduates with the skills that will be useful in several years,” Nemet says. “EAP will continue to be based on addressing real-world problems, and the capstone projects will continue to provide hands-on training.”

These three capstone projects offer examples of EAP’s applied initiatives that help businesses and communities, while providing students the skills they need to succeed.

 

DEVELOPING CARBON REDUCTION STRATEGIES FOR LIFESAVING THERAPIES

DEVELOPING CARBON REDUCTION STRATEGIES FOR LIFESAVING THERAPIES

Any effort to become more energy efficient begins with assessing the baseline: the current carbon footprint of a home, building or company.

But that can be a daunting task. So when Ron Meissen, senior director of sustainability for Baxter Healthcare, heard that his Colombian colleagues wanted to reduce their company’s carbon footprint, he knew it would make a perfect student project.

Meissen already worked for Baxter, a U.S.-headquartered multinational corporation with a strong Latin American presence, when he returned to UW-Madison in 2000 to pursue a Ph.D. with an EAP certificate. In fall 2014, seven years after earning his own degree, Meissen connected a new generation of EAP students — Najoua Jouini, Allie Cardiel and Eric O’Shaughnessy — with Baxter’s Colombia site, which specializes in renal therapy services.

“The analysis tools for estimating a company’s carbon footprint are not new,” says Jouini, “but they have to be tailored to the specific business infrastructure, and the results have to be translated into feasible carbon reduction strategies.”

Each year, Baxter’s 53 Colombian clinics deliver over two million therapies for more than 10,000 patients with chronic kidney disease. Dialysis service, which flushes waste from blood, is water- and energy-intensive, consuming about 360 liters (95 gallons) and up to 7.4 kilowatt-hours of electricity per therapy.

Under the supervision of engineering Professor Patrick Eagan, the students began with data collection. They looked at the energy and water consumption of all clinics, using utility bills and water meters the company had already installed, and estimated the energy consumption of the machines patients use in their homes.

Additional input parameters included national weather data, to model regional differences in heating and cooling needs, and population densities and transportation infrastructure in each clinic’s service area, to estimate emissions from patient travel and employee
commuting.

The students recommended two carbon reduction strategies. “One helps decrease the per-therapy carbon footprint; the other targets the emission baseline of those clinics our analysis identified as least energy efficient,” Jouini explains.

The per-therapy energy consumption could be reduced by low-carbon modes of transportation, more efficient dialysis machines, or improved clinical waste disposal methods. To decrease the carbon footprint of clinics, Baxter could install more efficient lighting, air conditioning, computer or television systems, or improve building insulation.

“Baxter is very interested in our results,” Eagan says. “We were fortunate with the timing of the project.”

 

HELPING THE CITY OF MADISON CUT CARBON EMISSIONS

HELPING THE CITY OF MADISON CUT CARBON EMISSIONS

Like many local governments, the city of Madison is trying to reduce its emissions of heat-trapping greenhouse gases (GHG) such as carbon dioxide. To achieve that goal, the city partnered with UW-Madison in 2010 to produce its first-ever emissions inventory.

When it was time to update that inventory with 2014 data, the city again turned to a team of UW students.

As part of the EAP capstone project in the spring of 2015, Emily Howell, Alexandra Karambelas, Xiaomeng Jin and Debaki Ale analyzed emission trends for specific energy sectors and proposed policy tools for reducing Madison’s carbon emissions.

“We identified transportation as a problem sector that accounts for 41 percent of GHG emissions,” Howell says. “This carbon footprint can be reduced by increasing the use of public transportation to commute to work. But to be successful, that strategy has to be tailored to Madison’s unique geography.”

That unique geography is the isthmus, a narrow strip of land wedged between Lakes Mendota and Monona and the site of two of Madison’s largest employers, the state government and UW-Madison. Since only so many roads can fit on a narrow piece of land, traffic congestion during daily rush hours causes significant emission spikes.

2014 GREENHOUSE GAS EMISSIONS IN MADISON
Madison's GHG emissions in 2014

To reduce those spikes, the students proposed transit-oriented city development: creating more living spaces around an isthmus-centered bus rapid transit (BRT) system.

By using dedicated lanes, off-board fare collection, few stops and frequent operations, BRT would be a much faster commuting system than Madison’s current bus service. Residential development around BRT would encourage a greater proportion of the population
to use it.

“Dane County is predicted to experience 70 percent of Wisconsin’s population growth between now and 2050,” Howell says. “Therefore, transit-oriented development would go a long way toward the 80 percent reduction in GHG emissions, from the 2010 baseline, that the sustainability committee would like to achieve.”

As a second strategy, the students researched policies that other U.S. cities comparable to Madison are pursuing to boost their renewable energy portfolio. Since Madison does not own its electric utility, the students focused on a nearby city in the same situation: Minneapolis.

The group found that Minneapolis recently signed a first-of-its-kind renewable energy agreement with its privately owned electric utility. Increased communication between Madison’s sustainability committee and partners in Minneapolis may lead to similar progress in Wisconsin’s capital city.

 

ESTIMATING THE COST OF WISCONSIN’S CLEAN DRINKING WATER

ESTIMATING THE COST OF WISCONSIN’S CLEAN DRINKING WATER

We don’t think about it when we turn on the faucet for a cold drink of water, but it takes quite a bit of energy to fill that glass. How much energy is a question that graduate students Andrew Behm, Andy Lick and Annie Lord spent the spring of 2015 pursuing.

The student team worked with the Public Service Commission (PSC) of Wisconsin to complete their capstone project. In turn, PSC, an independent agency responsible for regulating Wisconsin’s utilities, including 580 water utilities, gained insight into how to save water, energy and money.

“PSC wanted to use water treatment data submitted by each utility to estimate the energy embodied in drinking water,” Behm says. “This would allow them to better understand how water utilities use electricity, and what opportunities exist to conserve it.”

The term “embodied energy” refers to the energy needed to pump groundwater or surface water to the water treatment plant, and to operate the equipment that removes contaminants and makes water suitable for human consumption.

The students arbitrarily set embodied energy to zero at the water source. In Madison, the source is an underground aquifer; in Green Bay and Milwaukee, it’s surface water from Lake Michigan.

In Madison, where the aquifer’s groundwater has already been filtered by many layers of rock, sand and other natural materials, more energy is spent on operating pumps than on water treatment.

“You just need to add a little chlorine and Madison’s water is pretty much fit to drink,” Behm says.

For the Lake Michigan utilities, it’s the other way around: surface water requires less energy to pump up, but more energy to clean up. How much more depends on the nature of the utility’s water treatment process.

Working with engineering physics Professor Paul Wilson, the students developed statistical methods for classifying utilities as low- versus high-electricity use, based on the power needs of their respective water treatment and pumping equipment.

The students’ analysis will help utility managers make more informed decisions about infrastructure investments for reducing water loss – the difference between the amount of water pumped to the treatment plant versus the amount of water actually delivered to customers’ homes.

 

STUDENT SNAPSHOT: DAVID ABEL

With longstanding interests in math, science and problem solving, David Abel has found a perfect fit at the intersection of energy and policy.

David Abel
David Abel

Having graduated from UW-Madison last summer with bachelor’s degrees in mechanical engineering and environmental studies, and a certificate in engineering for energy sustainability, Abel saw EAP as a chance to further round out his education and reach his career goals.

Also pursing graduate degrees in mechanical engineering and environment and resources, Abel likes that EAP connects his engineering background with his appreciation for the complex, interdisciplinary nature of energy systems, and allows him to connect with students from a wide range of backgrounds.

“Energy is such a broad, interdisciplinary topic that it really takes people working together to create a successful, efficient grid,” he says.

A generous research award from Wes and Ankie Foell is supporting Abel’s thesis project, examining the climate, health, economic and security issues associated with energy use.

In the lab of Nelson Institute Professor Tracey Holloway, Abel is also studying how air quality could improve with increases in solar energy, and how investments in renewable energy and building efficiency can reduce carbon dioxide emissions and improve public health.

“I love to look at big-picture issues relevant to policy,” he says.

-Olivia Sanderfoot



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