While expected energy secretary nominee Steven Chu faces a daunting
set of challenges, engineering and renewable energy advocates applaud his
expected selection given his stellar scientific background.
"I don't see how the president-elect could have picked anyone better," IEEE-USA President Russ
Lefevre said in a press statement before it was publicly released. "I'm
particularly impressed with his emphasis on green energy. Plus, he has
experience in managing a very difficult energy organization. He has to deal
with scientists and engineers regularly."
As of this writing, news
of Chu's selection came via democratic sources across all major news
outlets. However, Obama and his aides had yet to make a formal announcement.
Tough tasks await Chu
assuming he's picked and confirmed. He will be Obama's point person to "ensure" that 10 percent of the nation's electricity comes from renewable sources by 2012 and a
quarter by 2025. He must make sure technology is developed so one million plug-in
hybrids capable of 150 mpg are on the road by 2015. Within a decade, the U.S. must "save" more oil than we currently
import from the Middle East and Venezuela.
And while he's doing all that, he has to rebuild America's electrical grid, maintain
and safeguard our nuclear stockpiles and oversee a government agency with an annual
budget of $25 billion and more than 16,000 employees.
Chu, 60, has a deep scientific
background, climaxing in his sharing of a Nobel Prize for Physics in 1997
and cooling atoms with a laser. He is presently employed by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
where he was named
director in 2004. A native
of St. Louis, he has compiled a
lengthy autobiography on the Nobel website which talks extensively about how
he hails from a long line of engineers. His father emigrated from China in 1943 to
study chemical engineering at MIT. And his mother's grandfather earned a civil
engineering degree from Cornell.
In high school, Chu confesses
to earning a "lackluster" A- average which resulted in his rejection from Ivy
League schools. So he attended the University
of Rochester where he
majored in math and physics. He did his graduate work at UC Berkeley where he
remains today with a nine-year stop at Bell Labs before that to measure the
energy output of atoms and to design an electron spectrometer. He also did a
teaching stint at Stanford.
Hydrogen and fuel cell advocate James Provenzano, co-author
of the The
Hydrogen Age, is delighted with Chu's
"It's refreshing to have someone on the science end of
things and less on the political. For so many years, we had the political and
industry side running DOE," he says. "He's a strong supporter of reducing
greenhouse gases and working on climate change. Overall, he sounds like a
fantastic choice. I've looked at some of his papers and he will bring a
holistic approach to problem solving. He doesn't seem myopic which many people
can be in this position."
Provenzano, also president of Clean Air Now in California, says he is still researching where Chu might come down on hydrogen. "He seems to have the
propensity to promote hydrogen, but I don't know."
The IEEE's Lefevre echoes the similar sentiments about Chu's science background. "The
Obama campaign and transition team have shown a tremendous appreciation for
science and technology. Dr. Chu's selection underscores their commitment."
One blemish on Chu's
otherwise sterling record was his acceptance
of improper perks and compensation in 2006 at UC Berkeley. Administrators
were criticized in a state audit of
misusing public funds. Chu makes close to $400,000
a year in his current position. As the Secretary of Energy, his base salary
will drop by almost two thirds.