U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu Calls on Scientists to Help Review Energy Applications


U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu

"I ask you and your colleagues that if you get a call to say, `We want you to help review [new energy projects],' that it's very important that you step up to the plate," U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu told attendees of the 34th Annual AAAS Forum on Science and Technology Policy.

Wisely investing billions of dollars in new money for innovative energy projects designed to help create jobs, improve energy efficiency, support advanced U.S. vehicles, and more—new funding approved under President Barack Obama's economic-stimulus package—will require "several hundred reviewers in various programs; three or four hundred reviewers in the next six months, and so I want the best-quality reviewers."

Chu likened the president's plan for increased investment in science and technology to the post-Sputnik surge in U.S. innovation. Obama set a national goal 27 April of devoting more than 3% of the nation's gross domestic product (GDP) to help boost public and private research and development. He also has announced large increases for multiple research-focused federal agencies.

The yield from conventional sources of oil will hit a plateau in 40 to 50 years, Chu said, prompting a shift toward unconventional, more expensive sources of oil. The impacts of global climate change related to fossil-fuel burning and deforestation also will become increasingly apparent, Chu said, and thus it is essential for the United States to move toward the "carbon-constrained use of energy."

How should the United States respond to the energy challenge?

"The United States should `skate to where the puck is going to be," Chu said, borrowing a quote from hockey great Wayne Gretzky to describe the need for new energy strategies. "Given that the price of oil and natural gas will go up; given the likelihood that we will realize increasingly that we will be in a carbon-constrained world, why don't we start doing this today—start making the change today?"

Under the Obama Administration, Chu noted, the Department of Energy (DOE) has been entrusted with an additional $39 billion over the next two years, as part of president's economic recovery act. The DOE's 2009 budget had already provided $25 billion in funding.

In addition, $120 billion in loan guarantees were authorized under the economic-stimulus plan to set the stage for new businesses and jobs, while supporting energy-efficient technologies.

Another $400 million over the next two years has been provided for the startup of a high-risk, high-reward research initiative called ARPA-E, and "energy frontier research grant centers" also are being established by the DOE.

But, Chu emphasized: "It's not only the amount of money, but how wisely it's invested."

To properly allocate billions of dollars in new funds, for example, many highly qualified scientists and engineers will be needed to help review applications for the funding. "The kind of money I talked about is going to be requiring some several hundred reviewers in various programs—three or four hundred reviewers in the next six months ... I ask you and your colleagues that if you get a call to say, `We want you to help review [new energy projects],' that it's very important that you step up to the plate."