Chu confirms plans to leave DOE later this year

US Sec. of Energy Steven Chu said he will not serve a second term, but added that he will stay at least until the end of February and possibly longer to help his successor’s transition.

In a letter to US Department of Energy employees, he said he was pleased that the Advance Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) grew from a concept into a reality during his tenure. The program’s Sun-Shot Challenge called for reducing the cost of full-scale solar electricity to 6¢/kw-hr without additional subsidies, close to the US Energy Information Administration’s projected cost of natural gas and the anticipated levelized cost of electricity (LCOE) from a new gas-fired power plant, Chu said.

“When we first discussed this goal, industry did not take it seriously,” he said. “Today, they tell me that our input challenged them to rethink their road maps and now agree that it is an achievable goal.”

Chu also cited progress in increasing wind and solar power generation, and low-income weatherization. Experts also were successfully mobilized from DOE’s National Energy Technology Laboratories following the 2010 incident at BP PLC’s Macondo deepwater well in the Gulf of Mexico to help stop the subsequent crude oil leak, he noted.

“Well over a hundred national lab employees toiled days, nights, weekends, and holidays to perform detailed analyses that earned the respect and admiration of the BP engineers and undeniably changed BP’s plans for the better,” the secretary said. “In the course of these actions, [DOE] also played a major role in estimating the amount of oil that was released into the gulf. Two-and-a-half years later, this estimate has stood the test of time and scrutiny.”

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He concluded his message with a call to continue developing alternatives to fossil fuels in an effort to improve US energy security and address global climate change.

“The United States spent roughly $430 billion on foreign oil in 2012,” Chu said. “This is a direct wealth transfer out of our country. Many billions more are spent to keep oil shipping lanes open and oil geo-politics add considerable additional burdens. Although our oil imports are projected to fall to a 25 year low next year, we still pay a heavy economic, national security and human cost for our oil addiction.”

He conceded that the oil and gas industry’s ability to find and extract fossil fuels continues to improve, and economically recoverable reser­voirs around the world are likely to keep pace with the rising demand for decades.

The same opportunities exist now for alternatives and energy efficiency, Chu maintained. “As the saying goes, the Stone Age did not end because we ran out of stones [but because] we transitioned to better solutions,” he said. “Just as today’s boom in shale gas production was made possible by Department of Energy research from 1978 to 1991, some of the most significant work [on efficiency and alternatives] may not be known for decades.”

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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