Batten Students Help Drive Virginia’s Clean Energy Transition

Victor Xue and Sebastian Singh
Batten School Masters of Public Policy students Victor Xue (left) and Sebastian Singh.

In a significant stride towards a cleaner and more sustainable Virginia, David (Col ’74) and Joy Peyton recently made a substantial gift to the Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service, which supported two Batten School graduates in their energy policy research. 

Over the course of an academic year, Victor Xue (MPP ‘24) and Sebastian Singh (MPP ‘24) delved into the development of practical, real-world policy solutions aimed at enhancing energy efficiency and decarbonization. The Peytons’ philanthropy not only engages the next generation in addressing pressing energy challenges, it also bolsters the Cooper Center’s Energy Transition Initiative in its efforts to drive a greener future for Virginia.

Decarbonizing Homes

xueIn his research presentation, "Residential Building Electrification: A Path to Decarbonization," Xue concentrated on the inefficiencies in residential energy usage, specifically in Virginia. He explored ways to transition to more efficient and clean energy systems, with a primary focus on heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems. 

Virginia households use a wide spectrum of HVAC systems, ranging from outdated fossil fuel boilers to more modern electric heat pump systems. Xue identified various challenges, such as cost, consumer behavior, educational gaps, the shortage of labor for installations, and manufacturer costs. To address these challenges, he proposed solutions including utility rebates, federal funding from the Inflation Reduction Act, and other incentives to lower costs for low-income households. He also recommended the implementation of specific building codes and federal standards for appliance updates. 

Batten’s curriculum played a key role in preparing Xue for the policy analysis he would undertake for the Cooper Center, he said. “My coursework really opened my eyes to the intricacies of the policy-making process, including the roles of various entities and the social, economic, and political factors at play. One of the key things Batten taught me was how to communicate complex information clearly and persuasively. Whether it was writing reports or presenting findings, being able to articulate my analysis and recommendations clearly was crucial.”

Decarbonizing Highways


Singh conducted analysis of the Clean Car Virginia bill in his presentation, "Electrifying Transportation Policy Pathway Analysis." The bill aims to grow the percentage of  electric and hybrid vehicles in Virginia and expand the network of electric vehicle (EV) charging stations to achieve a 70% hybrid, 30% battery composition by 2030. 

His clean car work highlighted the challenges associated with consumer attitudes about EVs, such as concerns about driving range, pricing, charging station availability and charging time. Additionally, there is a lack of awareness about EVs, especially in rural areas of Virginia. His analysis also revealed concerns about the energy grid's capacity to accommodate the increased demand for charging EVs.

In his final report Singh put forth several recommended policy options, including consumer awareness campaigns, tiered registration fees for EVs, and the promotion of time-varying electricity rates. For the long-term, he advised planning for electrification of medium- and heavy-duty vehicles, like tractor-trailers, which have a more substantial impact on carbon emissions compared to personal vehicles.

“My personal background in environmental economics and policy analysis, combined with a deep-seated interest in renewable energy and the energy transition, has been a driving force behind my commitment to energy-related policy research,” he said. “Living in the Chesapeake Bay watershed has provided me with a firsthand view of the tangible impacts of climate change, reinforcing the urgency and importance of sustainable energy policies.”

UVA's Energy Transition Initiative

The two students worked under the guidance of Bill Shobe, a faculty member at the Batten School and director of the Cooper Center’s Energy Transition Initiative and an expert in environmental economics. The Energy Transition Initiative was established in 2020 to support Virginia's goal of achieving carbon neutrality by 2050. By bringing together experts in economics, policy, planning and energy systems, the initiative is an invaluable resource for evidence-based decision-making and policy development. 

With the gracious gift from David and Joy Peyton, the initiative now has added resources to engage the next generation in tackling the critical challenge of decarbonization while contributing to a more sustainable Virginia. 

The Peytons are longtime advocates of empowering young people to address the environmental crisis, emphasizing the need for passionate problem solvers and global citizens. Their gift reflects confidence in UVA's leadership in decarbonization efforts and their hope for a flourishing program that will attract many students, ultimately fostering a skilled workforce committed to addressing environmental challenges. 

“This opportunity has been invaluable in expanding my understanding of the energy sector and in refining my skills as a policy researcher,” Xue said. 

“The Peytons gift to the Cooper Center has been instrumental in allowing me to not only explore but also expand on these interests,” Singh said. “It has been a catalyst for turning academic interest into actionable insights, allowing me to navigate the intricate landscape of energy policy with a real-world perspective gained from both academic study and personal experience.” 

The Peytons set a remarkable example of how collective effort and philanthropy can drive significant progress in environmental sustainability. And students such as Batten’s Xue and Singh are already playing a pivotal role in leading research initiatives that result in tangible change. 


Garrett Hall at Sunset

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