Best Energy Secretary Ever?Dr. Steven Chu will not only be remembered through the ages for his Nobel Prize in physics, but he will also go down in history for his tenure as head of the U.S. Department of Energy. Today, he announced that he's stepping down from his cabinet role in the Obama administration, but his policy decisions and R&D investments will keep bearing fruits for years to come. It must not have been easy for a scientist with nothing to prove to leave behind his comfort and privacy to step into the Washington political arena/parallel dimension, and so we are grateful for Dr. Chu's service, not only to the United States, but to the whole planet thanks to his advocacy of clean energy, advanced energy storage technologies, energy efficiency, plug-in vehicles, etc, but also thanks to his pro-science and evidence-based approach.
Dr. Chu wrote a goodbye letter addressed to his colleagues at the DoE. I recommend you read the whole thing, but here are some choice cuts:
"I’ve always been inspired by Dr. Martin Luther King, who articulated his Dream of an America where people are judged not by skin color but 'by the content of their character.' In the scientific world, people are judged by the content of their ideas. Advances are made with new insights, but the final arbitrator of any point of view are experiments that seek the unbiased truth, not information cherry picked to support a particular point of view. The power of our work is derived from this foundation."
Dr. Chu then lists some of the DoE's accomplishments during his tenure, and they include:
- In the last four years, the production of clean, renewable energy from wind and solar has doubled – driven in part by our Administration investments in the development and deployment of the latest technologies. Installations of solar photovoltaic systems have nearly doubled in each one of the last three years, exceeding 1.8 gigawatts in 2011. According to AWEA, last year 42 percent of new energy capacity in the U.S. was from wind – more than any other energy source.
- Four years ago, ARPA-E was a vision described in the report, Rising Above the Gathering Storm [summary available here.]. I was a member of that committee, but never dreamed that I would be asked to take the concept to reality. ARPA-E was designed to support high-risk, high reward technology development; to swing for game-changing home runs that can fundamentally transform energy technologies. The program has earned the respect of industry and academia for its outstanding funding choices, and active, thoughtful program management.
- The spirit of ARPA-E is now being disseminated in other parts of the Department. The first transplant was a completely revitalized solar photovoltaic program that was dubbed SunShot.
- The President announced an EV Everywhere Challenge, with the goal to achieve plug-in hybrids or EVs with a 100 mile range at the same cost of owning and operating a comparable sized internal combustion engine car with 40 miles/gallon for 5 years.
- The batteries developed for plug-in EVs will also revolutionize the electrical distribution system and the use of renewable energy. Wind energy is already expected to reach grid parity in less than a decade. Unless we develop new business models with utility companies and other stake holders, we will not be able to take full advantage of the accelerating pace of technology.
- In the last two years, the private sector, including Warren Buffett, Bank of America, Wells Fargo and Google, have announced major investments in clean energy. Originally skeptical lenders and investors now see that renewable energy will profitable. These investors are voting where it counts the most - with their wallet. As one CEO recently commented, "Solar is now bankable. When solar was perceived as more risky it required a premium," wrote Chu.
- Through the Recovery Act, the Department of Energy made grants and loans to more than 1,300 companies. While critics try hard to discredit the program, the truth is that only one percent of the companies of the companies we funded went bankrupt. That one percent has gotten more attention than the 99 percent that have not.
- We made historic progress in cleaning up nuclear contamination leftover from the Cold War, reducing the total footprint by nearly 75 percent and permanently cleaning up 690 square miles of contaminated land—an area more than 30 times the size of Manhattan.
And these are only a few examples, there are many more. It's hard keep it short when someone has been involved in so many important advances!
The White House has issued an official statement thanking Dr. Chu.
We might not have as much prestige as the White House, but we'd also like to thank Dr. Chu, and wish him best of luck in whatever he does next. Looking at his track record, it'll probably also be something that will make the world a better place!