Chu heralds renewables focus in leaving DOE

It’s official. Department of Energy Secretary Steven Chu is leaving. In reading his lengthy farewell letter, I was struck by how much he focused on renewable energy and the need to continue to take risks in financing early research. In the end, I believe Chu will be remembered as the secretary who brought a strong focus on renewable energy to the department, in addition to its core missions like ensuring nuclear security.

Chu trumpeted the formation of the ARPA-E program which has resulted in the funding of early renewables research, noting that “11 of the companies funded with $40 million dollars have attracted more than $200 million combined private investment.” He goes on to praise the Sunshot Initiative which he still believes has a chance of bringing the levelized cost of electricity (LCOE) for solar PV down to 6 cents per kilowatt hour, an extremely ambitious goal, but one which if ever attained would revolutionize the energy sector.

So, farewell, Secretary Chu. It’s been a bumpy four years, with Solyndra and all, but you’ve done an admiral job of focusing the DOE on further shifting the DOE culture toward renewable energy. If only you’d had a lot more money, then we’d be closer to where we need to be.

Who will succeed Chu? The Washington rumor mill suggests we may be looking at former North Dakota Senator Byron Dorgan. With budget battles ahead, many feel that Obama will need someone with lots of political experience fighting for appropriations to head the DOE, as opposed to Chu who was a Nobel Prize winning physicist.