Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs
Monday, February 8, 2010

Lamichhane blends engineering with interest in policy, sustainability

Santosh Lamichhane is on a quest to improve economic efficiency in the allocation of resources as a means to increase sustainability and facilitate economic development.

La Follette School photo taken December 17, 2009, by Andy Manis
Santosh Lamichhane


2011 grad Santosh Lamichhane is working as an energy analyst for the Madison office of KEMA, an international energy consulting company.

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"I believe that we can be more efficient with our resources," says the electrical engineer. "Good policy analysis is essential for making good decisions about sustainable development."

Lamichhane enrolled at La Follette after working for a Dallas, Texas, engineering firm that sent him to Sacramento, California, where he designed, priced and managed cable distribution projects. He saw firsthand how public policies affect engineering work as he researched how other cities operated their cable systems and as he maneuvered through Sacramento policies and permitting processes.

"During my work as an engineer, I became interested in how public policies can affect how we do engineering," the first-year student says. "I want to study the interplay of public policy related to science, technology, energy and environment with economic development, resources efficiency, and environmental sustainability."

To narrow his wide-ranging policy interests, Lamichhane is focusing on energy issues and plans to earn a certificate in energy analysis and policy in addition to his Master of International Public Affairs. La Follette's first-semester courses in economics and statistics were a good introduction to policy analysis, Lamichhane says.

In his second year, Lamichhane is working as a project assistant with professor Greg Nemet on a three-year $183,000 National Science Foundation grant to explore options for public policy mechanisms to address climate change.

"One of the goals is to identify policy interventions, such as funding research and development, giving subsidies or taxing carbon emissions, that will lead to lower costs of carbon capture in the long run, an attempt to allocate resources we have for best possible efficiency," Lamichhane says. "Technologies like carbon capture and sequestration can lower greenhouse gas emissions that have deleterious effects on our environment. By reducing the adverse effects to environment, we are essentially sustaining our environment. Moreover, environmental and human health improvements, and increased job availability due to new technology will facilitate economic development."

Lamichhane is helping Nemet build models to calculate the cost of capturing the carbon existing power plants emit. "We take into account how public research and development funds, carbon prices and increases in manufacturing scale would help lower the costs," Lamichhane says. "We also look at how new technologies affect the capture cost and at what point new technology would replace existing ones."

Lamichhane appreciates the opportunity to keep up with innovations and to learn about which policies can help stimulate the demand for certain technology. "I am learning how we can come up with the best yielding portfolio incorporating the uncertainties about technologies, research funding and other circumstances," he says, "in addition to the effect of a policy on the costs for capital, operations and management."

For his summer internship, Lamichhane collected data for the Pacific Economics Group, a small utility regulation consulting company in Madison, Wisconsin, that calculates indexes and trends to provide economic and management consulting services.

"I gathered data about utility companies from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the Energy Information Administration, sector-focused data warehouses, public regulatory commissions, the U.S. Department of Labor, the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis and other agencies," Lamichhane says.

He processed the data with the statistical software SST and then used the information to calculate performance indexes and to analyze trends in input cost, output quantity, number of customers, etc., he says. "I also analyzed it to make inferences about utility companies' cost structures and financial trends."

"I learned a lot about the utility companies," Lamichhane says, "and their operation and maintenance costs, reporting responsibilities to public service commissions and government agencies, and their standing and ranking according to various performance measures. I saw how performance-based measures can suggest to utilities how to improve their performance."

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During his first year at La Follette, Lamichhane was a project assistantship with the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development's Labor Market Information Section. Lamichhane research the types of job skills that unemployed workers could transfer to new jobs. "My work involved analyzing data and drawing statistical inferences," he says. "I recommended policy, wrote reports and created formulas to measure the transferability of job skills across occupations."

Lamichhane also researched "green jobs" and helped to develop a database that captures the growth rates of different environmental industries and the ability of workers to transfer their skills into these newer fields. "Green jobs are created through activities that increase resource efficiency and reduce harm to the environment," Lamichhane says.

His work in this area built on efforts by John Moore, a 2009 Master of Public Affairs alum, whose analysis examined the potential for creating jobs in alternative energy and other emerging "green" industries. The database will help lawmakers understand the potential effect on the labor market of different kinds of environmental standards, including portfolio standards, greenhouse gas emission limits and carbon taxes.

Throughout his time at La Follette, Lamichhane has appreciated the opportunities to explore public policy and how it relates to science, technology, energy, environment and sustainability.

"Public policy can emphasize allocative and technical efficiency in a way that enhances sustainable economic development," he says. "Our science and technology policies should take into account whether we can sustain our resources for the future."

— updated June 10, 2011