EAP Capstone

Embodying the Wisconsin Idea

The Wisconsin Idea is the principle that the university should improve peoples’ lives beyond the classroom. This idea spans the University of Wisconsin–Madison’s teaching, research, outreach and public service missions. It is also core to the EAP program. The program is oriented toward preparing students to lead and help address real-world problems associated with energy production and use.

EAP Capstone projects are the most direct embodiment of the Wisconsin Idea by integrating and applying students’ interdisciplinary learning to an issue of real-world significance. Each spring, students enroll in the EAP Capstone course (EnvSt/URPL/PubAff 810) and work in small teams on issues supplied by real-world clients.

Over the years, EAP Capstone clients have included Fortune 500 companies, state government agencies, municipal governments, research laboratories, think tanks, non-profit organizations, and campus facilities. If you are interested in serving as a client for a future project, please contact EAP Chair Tracey Holloway.

To illustrate the depth and breadth of analysis that students have provided for past clients, a listing of capstone projects is provided below.

Past Capstone Projects

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Utility Sustainability Scorecards — 2022

Client: Ziegler Capital Management, LLC

Summary: This project examines the environmental commitments, disclosures, and plans of investor-owned electric utilities, with the end-goal of identifying the best candidates for ZCM’s sustainability-focused investment strategies.

Microreactor Feasibility at U.W. Madison — 2022

Client: Westinghouse Nuclear

Summary: The eVinci nuclear microreactor, developed by the Westinghouse Electric Corporation, is a transportable reactor design that benefits from being compact and fully-assembled prior to transportation to the site. At non-remote locations like U.W. Madison, the value proposition of this design is challenging but aided by growing political support for microreactor deployment. This project seeks to improve the possibility of Westinghouse and UW Madison accessing this support by determining whether, where, and how an eVinci microreactor could be deployed at UW Madison.

Benefits of Utility-Scale Solar in the U.S. — 2022

Client: Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory

Summary: As part of their three-year project exploring issues related to solar photovoltaic (PV) access and equity, the Lawrence Berkeley Lab seeks to understand the benefits of utility-scale PV development. This project will help the Lab develop a framework to organize and understand these benefits, the relevant levels at which they accrue (e.g. community, market, worldwide), and how they may influence policymaking and planning related to future utility-scale PV project siting.

Energy Kiosks — 2022

Client: Office of Energy Innovation

Summary: The Office of Energy Innovation (OEI) has supported the work of UW-Madison and the Great Lakes Community Conservation Corps (GLCCC) to develop solar-powered phone charging kiosks in the form of electric Little Free Libraries, or eLFLs. This project examines the need, feasibility, cost, and benefits of deploying eLFLs, with a particular focus on individuals experiencing homelessness in Madison; the final report will act as a roadmap for other states wanting to deploy these kiosks.

Renewable Natural Gas Potential in Minnesota — 2022

Client: Minnesota Department of Commerce

Summary: In 2021, the Minnesota Legislature passed the Natural Gas Innovation Act (NGIA), creating a general framework for the state’s natural gas utilities to incorporate non-fossil gas resources into their systems, including renewable natural gas (RNG) produced via anaerobic digestion. This project will help Minnesota regulators assess RNG projects to determine whether they are in the public interest of Minnesota residents and businesses.

Benefits of Heat Pump Adoption in Wisconsin — 2022

Client: Wes Foell, Retired UW-Madison Professor and Energy Consultant

Summary: While heat pumps are an attractive option for replacing fossil fuels and electrifying home heating, prior research has found large variation in their potential net benefits. This project builds on previous analyses to perform a comprehensive assessment of the benefits of heat pump adoption in Wisconsin, with the end goal of producing a database and model to inform analysts and policymakers.

Health Outcomes of Wisconsin Energy Transition — 2022

Client: U.W. Madison Office of Sustainability

Summary: Governor Evers has ordered 100% carbon-free electricity for Wisconsin (including UW-Madison) by 2050, a goal with many different potential pathways that each have their own trade-offs. This project seeks to develop scenarios to estimate health co-benefits of the 100% renewable energy goal, in order to inform decision-makers about important benefit-cost trade-offs of different pathways to carbon neutrality.

Benchmarking, Tracking and Managing Energy Use — 2021

Client: City of Fitchburg

Summary: The City of Fitchburg plans to produce an in-house analysis of its energy use to guide decisionmaking about energy conservation efforts and energy purchase. This project involved designing an analysis and report framework that can be populated with City of Fitchburg energy use data (by facility and type) by City employees each year to produce an annual report.

Technology and Policy Mechanisms to Electrify the Commercial Building Space — 2021

Client: Focus on Energy

Summary: Electrification—the switching of enduse fuel consumption to electricity—is a strategy to advance decarbonization across the economy and is an emerging topic in Wisconsin as clean energy efforts ramp up. While opportunities for promoting and implementing electrification in the transportation and residential sectors are well known, strategies for the commercial sector are less studied. This project sought to better understand commercial sector electrification opportunities and offer considerations for how Focus on Energy and other policies in Wisconsin could support such opportunities.

Identifying Barriers Faced by BIPOC Communities to Renewable Energy Adoption in Wisconsin — 2021

Client: RENEW Wisconsin

Summary: At a national level, non-white households are almost 50% less likely than white households to adopt solar when holding income constant. In partnership with RENEW Wisconsin and Walnut Way Conservation Corp., this project surveyed residents of Milwaukee and analyzed responses to better understand the barriers of renewable energy adoption among BIPOC communities in Wisconsin.

Strategic Energy Management: Finding Treasure in Campus Facilities — 2021

Client: UW–Madison Office of Sustainability

Summary: The project team will be tasked with background research necessary and pilot testing to develop recommendations for the Office of Sustainability about potential benefits and costs of initiating a campus-wide building performance analysis known as “benchmarking,” an industry-standard methodology to compare energy, water and/or waste generation using tools and resources developed by ENERGY STAR. Based on their data analysis, the project team will provided facility energy analysis and stakeholder engagement recommendations that the Office of Sustainability can use for future discussion with campus stakeholders in the development and implementation of a campuswide climate action and adaptation plan.

Accounting for Embodied Emissions in Wisconsin Construction Materials — 2021

Client: Wisconsin Initiative on Climate Change Impacts (WICCI)

Summary: Embodied carbon emissions in construction materials account for a significant portion of the lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions of infrastructure projects. This issue is increasingly scrutinized in public works. The goal of this project was to identify the pathway for states like Wisconsin to quantify and consider embodied carbon emissions in construction of infrastructure projects. Specifically, if new policies are implemented that require state and municipal agencies to account for embodied carbon emissions in infrastructure projects, what would be the main challenges and potential solutions? How would these solutions simultaneously achieve environmental and economic sustainability?

The Benefits of Transmission — 2020

Client: Organization of MISO States (OMS)

Summary: The OMS is currently engaged with MISO (Midcontinent Independent System Operator) and other stakeholders in discussions surrounding the long-term transmission needs of the region given a rapidly evolving generation portfolio and other industry trends. To educate OMS members on possible ways to modify the existing transmission planning process to better account for some of these changes, the OMS hosted an event with the Midwest Governors Association to explore various methods for quantifying the benefits of transmission. This project sought to gain a deeper understanding of the application of some of those analytical methods by surveying and analyzing how other regional transmission organizations quantify these benefits in their planning processes.

Finding the Narrative in Wisconsin Electric Power Generation Data — 2020

Client: State of Wisconsin Office of Energy Innovation (OEI), part of the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin

Summary: While the Wisconsin Energy Statistics Book contains some discussion of the aggregated data and its implications, there are frequently features in the data that deserve a deeper study and may reveal interesting narratives about the cause of those features, whether based on changes in the market, changes in policy or otherwise. This project identified a few key narratives in recent Wisconsin history, such as the rise of natural gas and the retirement of the Kewaunee nuclear power plant, and their effects on greenhouse gas emissions from the electricity sector. The team also analyzed the economics of wind, solar PV, and natural gas in the state and which factors would lead to the most cost-effective reduction of greenhouse gas emissions in future deployment.

Pre-feasibility Assessment for Designing a Portfolio of Land-based Climate Mitigation Projects — 2020

Client: Stockholm Environment Institute

Summary: This project produced a pre-feasibility assessment of land-based climate mitigation options, which can sequester carbon through practices such as improved soil management, biochar, afforestation, and bioenergy with carbon capture and storage. Students identified four different land-based climate mitigation projects or programs in four different countries and analyzed how they balance climate ambitions with other Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) while considering how technologies, policies and practices can be deployed, replicated and scaled up. 

Survey of Distributed Energy Resources in MISO Territory — 2018

Client: Organization of MISO States (OMS)

Summary: The motivation for this project is to help the Organization of MISO States (OMS) gain a better understanding of the drivers, pace, and location of Distributed Energy Resources (DER) deployment throughout the Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO) footprint. The end goal of this project is to ensure that OMS members are better informed to provide guidance on DER as it impacts MISO’s transmission planning and market enhancements.

Effects of Salt River Project’s Demand Based Rate Change on the Rooftop Solar Market in Maricopa Count, Arizona — 2017

Client: Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory

Summary: We begin by taking a broad view of the rooftop solar policies in the US, including observations of rooftop photovoltaic (PV) market growth by state. We identify major policy events and select the case of Salt River Project in Arizona to investigate in more detail. Using the Tracking the Sun database, interviews, and simulations in System Advisor Model, we describe changes in PV adoption, PV system price, installer market, and system characteristics that coincide with a major rate design for Salt River Project solar customers.

Analyzing the Economic, Environmental and Equity Impacts of Replacing Coal Plants with Clean Energy and Storage in Illinois — 2017

Client: Union of Concerned Scientists

Summary: At the request of the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), an analysis of the economic, environmental, and equity impacts of replacing coal plants in Illinois with clean energy technologies and storage was conducted. This was accomplished through the following three steps: 1) identifying and ranking coal power plants located in close proximity to vulnerable communities using demographic and environmental data from the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) environmental justice screening tool (EJSCREEN) and health data from the American Community Survey; 2) quantifying and ranking carbon dioxide (CO2), sulfur dioxide (SO2), and nitrogen oxides (NOx) emissions from coal plants in Illinois using recent data from EPA and Energy Information Administration (EIA); and 3) choosing a coal plant with a high vulnerability ranking to serve as a case study for analyzing the costs and benefits of retiring and replacing the plant with solar and wind power combined energy storage compared with a new natural gas plant.

Health Improvement Opportunity (HIO) — 2016

Client: Baxter International Incorporated

Summary: The objective of this capstone project is to aid in the development of an internal price on air pollutants and carbon dioxide which will be accomplished via two avenues. First, the estimation of the health costs resulting from Baxter’s emissions of fossil fuels in the United States. This measurement of health costs is meant to be used within their whole business to frame their processes as a means of improving citizens’ health. The second goal of this project is to provide suggestions as to how the health investment opportunity can be implemented and integrated into Baxter’s decision-making.

Analysis of the Potential for Distributed Generation Solar Photovoltaics to Economically Reduce Carbon Emissions in Wisconsin for Clean Power Plan Compliance — 2016

Client: Clean Wisconsin

Summary: This project will assess the current state of Wisconsin’s energy generation, calculate technical potential for distributed generation photovoltaic (DGPV) across the state, project economic potential for distributed generation across the state, and calculate the resulting emissions reductions that may be possible. We will project a range of prices of solar generated electricity, and project the average costs of residential and commercial sector retail electricity, and assess the necessary amount of price subsidy or carbon tax necessary to close the economic gap between technical potential and economic potential.