In a letter to Energy Department employees today, Energy Secretary Steven Chu highlighted the tremendous progress of the last four years, and announced his decision to not serve a second term as Secretary. Text of the letter is below.
Serving the country as Secretary of Energy, and working alongside such an extraordinary team of people at the Department, has been the greatest privilege of my life. While the job has had many challenges, it has been an exciting time for the Department, the country, and for me personally.
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.
This is the approach I’ve brought to the Department of Energy, where I believe we should be judged not by the money we direct to a particular State or district, company, university or national lab, but by the character of our decisions. The Department of Energy serves the country as a Department of Science, a Department of Innovation, and a Department of Nuclear Security.
I have worked each day to move the Department in a direction where the political leadership and highest levels of career managers have the intellectual curiosity and wisdom to learn from the people who reported to them and where the subject matter experts – which should include managers at the highest levels – as well as employees at our national laboratories welcome their counsel and help. I grew up and matured in organizations where a graduate student or staff scientist could have a discussion with a company department head, a professor, a national lab director and be heard, not because of their rank in the organization, but because of the quality of their ideas.
I came with dreams, and am leaving with a set of accomplishments that we should all be proud of. Those accomplishments are because of all your dedication and hard work.
- Four years ago, ARPA-E was a vision described in the report, Rising Above the Gathering Storm. 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.
- Its success was the result of the assembly of an extraordinarily talented group of individuals. This team would engage in active discussions that spilled into the evenings. They challenged each other with honest and frank discussions over their competing programs, and created an ARPA-E fellows program that was able to recruit some of the best recent graduates.
- What have been the early results? ARPA-E was described by Fred Smith of Fed Ex in his ARPA-E Summit Keynote address that in his opinion, ARPA-E was best government funding program he has ever seen. In the first few years, 11 of the companies funded with $40 million dollars have attracted more than $200 million in combined private investment. While it is too early to tell if we have home runs like ARPA-net, there are a number of investments that have certainly rounded second base.
- 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. A small cadre of enthusiastic individuals led a transformation. Unsolicited feedback from industry and academia alike noted the dramatic increase in the quality of the program with essentially no increase in budget. One of the founding members of ARPA-E is now the Assistant Secretary of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE). Remarkably, a recent Forbes article described the changes now in progress with the lead, “quiet clean energy innovation revolution at the Department of Energy,” and noted “a leap in the right direction and absolutely critical to creating a more flexible, innovation-focused DOE mission.”
- I would love to describe what has been happening in many other specific areas of the Department, but my message would fill many more pages. In the last two years, we have issued two Grand Challenges to innovators in industry. The SunShot Challenge called for reducing the full cost of utility scale solar energy to $1/watt, which roughly equates to a levelized cost of electricity (LOCE) of 6 cents/kWh without additional subsidies created for the solar industry. This is close to the projected EIA cost of natural gas and the anticipated LOCE on a new natural gas electricity generator a decade from now. When we first discussed this goal, industry did not take it seriously. Today, they tell me that our input challenged them to rethink their road maps and now agree that it is an achievable goal.
- 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.
- We’re also forging stronger partnerships with industry to give America’s innovators and entrepreneurs a competitive edge in the global marketplace. We have held workshops with industry in materials, computation, solar PV, plug-in electric vehicles, and many other areas to actively engage companies to take better advantage of the Department’s capabilities — from our extraordinary user facilities to our scientists and engineers. In addition, numerous industry leaders have told me of a new found appreciation of our “convening” role in many areas of energy innovation, including innovations in energy finance. Going forward, this convening role and intellectual brainstorming sessions with industry will be increasingly valuable.
- The Department has made significant progress in breaking down the walls between our basic science and applied science programs. The Office of Science and the Applied Energy programs have collaborated from the beginning in the design of Funding Opportunity Announcements. So-called “Tech teams” that span Energy, Science and APRA-E have started to meet regularly in areas such as solar energy, electricity transmission and distribution, computation, and biofuels. Brainstorming sessions where young scientists are encouraged to share ideas and joust with Department veterans have begun.
There are also far more tangible signs of success.
- 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.
- In addition to our approximately $25 billion annual budget, we were entrusted by Congress to make a $36 billion investment through the Recovery Act to help ensure that the clean energy jobs of tomorrow are being created here in America today. And we made this investment with a robust review process that brought a new level of expertise from inside and outside the Department to ensure that decisions were based on the merits of each applicant.
- The Department has helped one million low income homeowners weatherize their homes. We launched the President’s Better Buildings Challenge which has secured $2 billion in commitments from more than 100 major companies, universities, hospitals, retailers, cities and states to upgrade 2 billion square feet of commercial and industrial space by 2020. To put that in perspective, that’s more than 400 times the square footage of the Sears Tower.
- We administered a loan program authorized by Congress in the previous administration. The program generated a portfolio of loans and loan guarantees to 33 clean energy and advanced automotive manufacturing projects that will support 60,000 jobs and generate $55 billion in economic investment. Energy and infrastructure loan programs first put into action in the last four years are being replicated by numerous other countries around the world.
This portfolio includes:
- More than a dozen auto manufacturing plants built, reopened, or retooled – from Michigan to California to Tennessee – helping our auto industry compete and produce the next generation of American-made vehicles that will save consumers $1 billion a year on gasoline, including the first all-electric vehicle manufacturing plant in the world in Tennessee.
- The first national scale rooftop solar project that will include commercial buildings in up to 28 states
- The first nuclear power plants in the last three decades
- Wind farms, solar photovoltaic and concentrating solar power plants that will be among the largest in the world.
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.”