The departures of more famous members of President Obama’s staff, like Hillary Clinton, have been making the rounds. But the news that Energy Secretary Steven Chu, a Nobel winner and champion of solar and renewable energy, is stepping down, landed with a soft thud. While his record was besmirched somewhat by the failure of companies like Solyndra, he also oversaw a huge drop in the price of solar and developed programs like the SunShot Initiative which is reducing the cost of solar through technological, administrative reduction and simplifications processes. Advocates of renewable and clean energy like the Advanced Energy Economy and the Solar Energy Industries Association hailed his work at the energy department.
In remarks regarding the departure President Obama said, “As a Nobel Prize winning scientist, Steve brought to the Energy Department a unique understanding of both the urgent challenge presented by climate change and the tremendous opportunity that clean energy represents for our economy.” Obama praised Chu for moving the U.S. to a more, secure less fossil-fuel reliant economy. “Over the past four years, we have doubled the use of renewable energy, dramatically reduced our dependence on foreign oil, and put our country on a path to win the global race for clean energy jobs. Thanks to Steve, we also expanded support for our brightest engineers and entrepreneurs as they pursue groundbreaking innovations that could transform our energy future.”
During Dr. Chu’s tenure he oversaw a huge expansion of the U.S.’s interests in renewable energy, worked with the Department of the Interior to create Solar Energy Zones on federally managed lands and oversaw an expansion of research and development efforts aimed at helping get new technologies out of the research and development phases and into the commercial phases.
This earned praise from SEIA President and CEO Rhone Resch, who remarked: “SEIA applauds Secretary Chu for his outstanding leadership of the Department of Energy and for his work to foster the growth of clean energy technologies to power America,” he said. “Secretary Chu clearly believes in the power of science and innovation to drive change, which was evident in the way he led the Department.”
Praise also came from AEE. "[Chu] has focused the department on innovation to develop cost-competitive, new energy technologies that will promote secure, clean, affordable energy,” said. Graham Richard, CEO of Advanced Energy Economy. “I look forward to working with his successor to build on the foundation laid by Secretary Chu."
Resch observed that Chu’s SunShot Initiative has thus far spurred $55 billion in economic investment. “Under the Obama Administration, the amount of solar powering homes, businesses, and military bases has grown by nearly 500 percent — from 1,100 megawatts in 2008 to more than 6,400 megawatts today,” he said. “The U.S. now has enough installed solar capacity to power a million households, and 2013 is on track to be another year of record growth for our industry.”
At this point no successor to Chu has been named. Although, as a recent New York Times article pointed out, some people are already speculating about a potential replacement. Among names mentioned are: former Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire, Dan Reicher an assistant energy secretary in the Clinton administration, and Ashton Carter, a deputy secretary of defense. Chu could leave the post as soon as the end of February.