• [ February 14, 2013 ]
  • U.S. Secretary of Energy on solving the energy and climate change challenge

Secretary of Energy Steven Chu addresses climate change during his lecture on Feb. 12 at the Memorial Union. Chu won the Nobel Prize in 1977 for his work in physics. Photo: Kait McKinney/Iowa Energy Center

U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu spoke in Ames last minute Tuesday, Feb. 12 on the role of science and innovation in solving energy and climate change challenges. For the afternoon presentation, the South Ballroom at the Memorial Union was packed with students, educators, and community members.

Chu’s presentation was two-fold. First he looked at the data behind the climate change, because he said he believes scientific data is the appropriate way to combat the skepticism related to climate change.

“Climate change is a risk. It takes the form of increased natural disasters, fertile land becoming desert, and high amounts of financial losses,” Chu said. “It is only common sense to see risk and address it.”

Rather than focusing on the bleak, hard data of climate change, Chu turned the conversation to energy efficiency and clean energy options.

“In every crisis there is opportunity,” Chu said.

For energy efficiency, the U.S. government has found a striking correlation between increased energy efficiency and decreased costs. The trend was first studied in household appliances, but the learning curve is the same wherever energy efficiency extends, Chu said. The goal now is to continue this trend throughout industries.

One of the energy efficiency efforts Chu highlighted is the 2022 EV Everywhere Grand Challenge. This challenge focuses on the U.S. becoming the first nation to produce plug-in electric vehicles as affordable for the average American family as today’s gasoline-powered vehicles within the next ten years. This efficiency and innovation will ideally transform the automotive industry, Chu said.

In relation to clean energy, Chu discussed the potential of wind and solar energy in the U.S., and he even got the crowd laughing about his “love affair” with solar panels as satirically reported by The Onion.

“The challenge here is soft costs, not the cost of the technology right now,” Chu said. “We are working to make the energy playing field more even between renewable and non-renewable energy.”

Currently the Department of Energy is working to level the costs of solar energy through the SunShot Initiative. The initiative seeks to make solar energy cost-competitive with other forms of electricity by the end of the decade. This challenge is centered on the soft, bureaucratic costs, not the actual cost of solar technology, which Chu reported, is at a lower price than experts predicted.

When discussing U.S. energy innovation, Chu expressed his greatest fear is setting goals too low.

“I see our efforts on the current climate and energy situation related to the words of Michelangelo, ‘The greatest danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that it is too low and we reach it.’ We must continue to set high goals for the role of science and innovation in solving energy and climate change challenges,” Chu said.

The lecture was sponsored by Ames Laboratory of the U.S. Department of Energy and National Affairs Series (funded by ISU Government of Student Body).



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