SAGE is actively assessing environmental impacts of energy use and exploring new opportunities to meet global energy demand. These activities build on ongoing research in air quality, climate change, land use, agriculture, and public health to help inform energy decision-making at the state, national, and international levels. Energy activities at SAGE tie closely into the Energy Analysis and Policy (EAP) Graduate Certificate Program offered through the Nelson Institute, the UW Energy Institute, and the Wisconsin Bioenergy Initiative (WBI).
Dr. Greg Nemet, hired under the Energy Systems and Policy Cluster, evaluates policies to promote energy technology innovation and a range environmental/energy policy issues. He is active in the EAP Certificate program, and teaches energy policy classes in the LaFollette School of Public Policy and the Nelson Institute.
Dr. Carol Barford assesses potential energy-crop production and broader issues in land use, farm economy, and energy.
Dr. Holly Gibbs is an expert on land use and climate, including quantifying the carbon stored in tropical forests, connecting science and international climate policy, and assessing the climate impacts of biofuels.
Dr. Tracey Holloway, hired under the Energy Systems and Policy Cluster, addresses environmental impacts of energy use, especially related to air quality and climate.
Dr. Chris Kucharik's work focuses on sustainable biofuel production, and links between biofuels, climate, and food production. In the context of biofuels and bioenergy, his group is affiliated with the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center (GLBRC), supporting sustainability science research related to biofuel feedstocks derived from agricultural landscapes.
Dr. Paul Meier, Director, UW-Madison Energy Institute
Dr. Jonathan Patz examines the health impacts of energy strategies in an effort to design win-win solutions for health, energy, climate, and air quality.
Gary Radloff Policy Director, Wisconsin Bioenergy Initiative (WBI)
Students, Post-Docs, and Research Staff
Assessing Carbon Neutrality and Ecology of Different Biofuel Cropping Systems in the Midwest U.S. Kucharik is collaborating with colleagues in the Department of Agronomy (Prof. Randy Jackson, Prof. Josh Posner) to better understand how a shift to new cropping systems or rotations may impact carbon balance across the Midwest, as well as ecosystem structure and functioning. The work is part of the Sustainability Science Team (Area 4) of the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center (GLBRC), funded through the U.S. Department of Energy. Studies of net ecosystem exchange, plant phenology, greenhouse gas fluxes, and soil carbon pool changes at the field scale (near the UW Agricultural Research Station at Arlington) will be used to help parameterize and validate ecosystem modeling tools designed to scale-up across the Midwest. [US Department of Energy Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center (GLBRC)]
Air Quality Benefits of Electricity Conservation and Renewables Prof. Holloway's group works closely with Dr. Paul Meier (SAGE Affiliate and Energy Institute) and energy modelers from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) to quantify the air quality benefits associated with cleaner, more efficient electricity production. Studies funded by the National Institutes of Health, NREL, Wisconsin Focus on Energy and CFIRE evaluate how conservations, renewables, and cleaner fossil fuels would impact air quality, especially during extreme heat events.
Choosing a Portfolio of Technology Policies in an Uncertain World (Nemet) This project aims to provide a framework for designing a portfolio of technology policies to address climate change. The researchers model the effects of combinations of policy instruments on a portfolio of technologies, when both the outcomes of the technology policies and the effects of climate change are uncertain. The project evaluates combinations of three policy instruments: government funded R&D; subsidies for demand; and carbon prices. (view NSF award page)
Credibility of multi-year energy policy targets A look at the past 40 years of U.S. energy policy provides ample evidence of policy volatility, including rapidly varying budgets, cancelled programs, and better success in achieving short-term rather than long-term goals. Changing policy too often is a serious criticism because systemic inertia for example due to the long lifetimes of capital stock and to the atmospheric residence time of CO2 implies a need for persistence in order to achieve social goals. But changing policy has benefits as well: it allows for experimentation, policy learning, and assimilation of new information.
Energy Intensity of Crop and Dairy Production on Wisconsin Farms Energy use supports high productivity in modern agriculture, but also creates environmental and financial risks. In this project, Carol Barford and students will use field observations, surveys and crop production budgets to analyze the energy intensity of production for major field crops and dairy in Wisconsin. Energy intensities for crops and whole farms will be compared to economic and management factors that drive energy use (e.g.farm size, location, combinations of crops, farm income, use of credit) and to physical features (e.g. growing degree-days, precipitation, soil texture). Results will show opportunities to reduce energy intensity and make food production more sustainable in Wisconsin. Funded by the UW-Office of Sustainability.
Impacts of Biofuel-Driven Changes in Land Use and Land Cover on Flows of Water, Carbon and Nutrients to Freshwaters Kucharik is collaborating with co-investigators of the North Temperate Lakes Long Term Ecological Research project to study how the changing distribution of croplands affect nutrient flux to freshwaters and the cycling of C in the terrestrial-aquatic system, as well as how alternative biofuel feedstocks other than corn grain might impact water quality, carbon sequestration, and climate regulation. The Agro-IBIS model is being used across the Yahara Lakes watershed in southern Wisconsin to address these questions. Funding is provided by the National Science Foundation.
Incentives for innovation in building energy control technologies Many consider innovation in the building sector and in end-use devices an important yet unexamined research area. In a first paper for this project, we analyze patent citations in building energy control technologies and find that: (1) patenting activity peaked around 1980, subsequently declined, and then increased considerably in the past decade; (2) commercial, rather than residential, buildings account for the recent increase; and (3) building control technologies have benefited from inventions originating outside the industry, notably from electronics and computers, with a shift toward the latter in recent years. We plan a second paper submission next year identifying the effects of public policy, especially state building codes, on the adoption of building energy controls. The motivation for this research area emerged from work with colleagues in which, using a broad array of metrics, we found that small scale end-use energy technologies are a much lower priority for government energy activities than are large scale energy supply technologies despite evidence of higher social returns to the former.
Landscape Structure and Natural Pest-Suppression Services in Bioenergy Landscapes: Implications for Regional Food and Fuel Production Kucharik and colleagues Claudio Gratton, Tim Meehan, and Phil Townsend are studying how changes in the structure of the agricultural landscape will affect crop yield through indirect effects on natural enemies and crop pests. Focusing on soybean-based biofuel, its principle pest (soybean aphid) and its natural enemies (generalist predators such as ladybeetles) across a 19-county region of southern Wisconsin, the research team is using empirical and biophysical crop modeling to evaluate the role of landscape structure on biofuel yield through the indirect effects on natural enemies and pests. Kucharik and colleagues will further develop remote-sensing approaches to expand predictions of biofuel yield and the effect of biocontrol services to the scale of the regional landscape. By merging of these interdisciplinary approaches to address complex issues of species interactions at broad scales, they will generate maps that can help evaluate how ecosystem services such as biocontrol and crop yield trade off at the landscape scale thereby making the outcomes of this proposal relevant to land managers and policy makers. [Funding source: USDA Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) Bioenergy/Foundational Research, Sustainable Bioenergy Research, Program Area Code A6121]
Meta-analysis of expert elicitation studies In this project we will use meta-analysis techniques to improve the reliability of expert elicitation results by drawing on a wider set of observations than possible with any single study. The objectives of this project are primarily twofold. First, we aim to construct a set of consistent elicitation results across studies that in aggregate can be used as inputs to integrated assessment models, as well as to inform policy decisions directly. Second, we aim to inform the design of future elicitation exercises. In doing this we will distinguish between variation arising from differences in expert and survey characteristics and that arising from experts uncertainty about the likelihood of technological improvement. We gather the hundreds of expert judgments collected in multiple elicitation studies and conduct a meta-analysis to identify the factors affecting the variation in their probabilistic assessments of future technology performance, conditional on carefully designed policy scenarios. Energy technologies to be included in this meta-analysis project include: nuclear fission, solar PV, carbon capture, bio-energy, and storage. In the later stages of this project we will work with colleagues running integrated assessment models to conduct benefit-cost analyses on the policy scenarios we include.
Quantifying Carbon Sequestration in Midwest US Bioenergy Cropping Systems: Scaling CO2 Fluxes from Leaf-Level to Landscapes Kucharik and colleagues are studying how a land-use shift to planting more perennial grasses such as switchgrass or fast growing trees like hybrid poplar to support cellulosic ethanol production could sequester large quantities of carbon (C) back into vegetation and soils. This would support ecosystem sustainability while providing a new income stream to farmers via participation in C-crediting programs. However, we currently lack the necessary field observations to verify that C-sequestration is occurring. To address this shortcoming, Kucharik and colleagues are quantifying the C sequestration potential associated with three cropping system monocultures in the Arlington, WI region (continuous corn, switchgrass, and hybrid poplar) that are known for biomass production potential. They are coupling field measurements of leaf area index, soil temperature and moisture, soil CO2 respiration, and CO2 uptake by vegetation with a theoretical approach to scale leaf-level CO2 fluxes to the landscape scale to quantify the net ecosystem exchange of CO2. The study sites are associated with the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center (GLBRC) and the Wisconsin Integrated Cropping Systems Trial (WICST). The field observations will be used to validate an agroecosystem model (Agro-IBIS) to support future studies of ecosystem service trade-offs associated with bioenergy crops. [Funding source: USDA Hatch]
Transportation and Air Quality SAGE researchers quantify carbon emissions and air quality benefits of transportation fuel switching (e.g. diesel to natural gas, lead by Dr. Meier) and mode shifts (e.g. truck to rail, led by Prof. Holloway; car to bike, led by Prof. Patz). Projects related to truck and rail have been funded by the National Center for Freight Infrastructure, Research, and Education (CFIRE), for which Holloway serves as Associate Director.