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Kevin Bullis

A View from Kevin Bullis

Steven Chu's Energy Plan

At yesterday’s hearing, Obama’s selection for secretary of energy outlined his priorities.

  • January 14, 2009

Steven Chu, president-elect Obama’s pick for secretary of energy, emphasized the need to address climate change and decrease reliance on foreign oil during his confirmation hearing on Tuesday, January 13, and he backed off of some of his earlier rhetoric against coal (which he’d previously called his “worst nightmare”). Here’s a sampling of his take on key issues.

Oil and gas, and efficiency:
He tiptoed around the issue of increasing oil and gas production on the outer continental shelf and elsewhere, saying that he supported it, but immediately qualifying his statement. He said that only 5 percent of the world production of oil comes from the United States, implying that increased production won’t make much difference. Then he said, “The more efficient use of energy in the United States is the one big factor that can help us reduce our dependency on foreign oil.”

Nuclear:
It has to be part of the energy mix, so we need to figure out how to dispose of it. That means, in part, some more research on recycling waste.

Electric grid:
A “very crucial” part of the development of natural resources. Steady winds and clear skies for solar power are often far from big cities where power is needed, so we’ll need better electrical transmission. Challenges: cost, state boundary issues, siting the power lines.

Renewable energy:
“Renewable energy is something we really have to work on as quickly as possible … It will be my primary goal as secretary to make the Department of Energy a leader in these critical efforts.” (Quote from CQ Politics.) Chu’s work as the director of the Lawrence Berkeley Lab focused on advanced biofuels, artificial photosynthesis, and solar technologies.

Hybrids, electric vehicles:
“These first electric hybrid cars don’t have the energy capacity and the battery lifetime we need,” he said today. “Let’s push hard towards more fuel-efficient personal vehicles.” (Quote from Earth2Tech.)

Coal, carbon sequestration:
Coal is the most abundant fuel source in the U.S., and the dirtiest. But capturing the carbon dioxide that it produces and burying it could make it cleaner. Chu supports developing technology to do this.

“If the world continues to use coal the way it is now, that is a pretty bad dream,” he said at the hearing, pointing out that carbon dioxide isn’t the only problem. In many places, pollutants like sulfur dioxide and mercury aren’t captured, he said. “It is imperative that we figure out a way to use coal as cleanly as possible. My optimism as a scientist is that we will develop those technologies to capture a large fraction of the carbon dioxide that is emitted from power plants and to safely sequester it.”

Hear more about climate change at EmTech MIT 2017.

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