Obama continues support for solar with energy secretary appointment



U.S. President-elect Barack Obama has named his selection to head the American Energy Department. Steven Chu, former co-recipient of the Nobel Prize for Physics (1997), Director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and founder of the Helios Solar Energy Research Center (SERC), has accepted the post that will see Dr. Chu instrumental in the allocation of Obama’s planned $150 billion investment in alternative energy technologies. Dr. Chu will work alongside Carol Browner, who will head the national energy council and led the Environmental Protection Agency under Bill Clinton.

Chu’s Helios initiative aims to develop effective storage methods for solar energy in the form of renewable transportation fuel. The programme is concerned with research in the areas of direct conversion of water and carbon dioxide to fuels using solar energy, as well as the generation of biofuels from biomass and by algae.

According to Bloomberg’s report on the appointments, Ms. Browner “is likely to focus on big-picture energy issues sweeping across all federal agencies, while Chu will be responsible for making sure the Energy Department develops the technologies needed to allow solar, wind and biomass to compete with oil and coal.” Dan Arvizu, Director of The National Renewable Energy Laboratory, has, along with other industry analysts, expressed mild concern at how well the two new appointees will work together. He is cited in the Bloomberg report as saying, “If the chemistry is right between Carol Browner and Steve Chu then you can take what otherwise might be some creative tension and turn it into a positive.”

It is hoped that the focus will remain strongly on renewable energies such as solar, wind and biomass, especially given Dr. Chu’s instrumental role in implementing the Helios programme. All eyes in the photovoltaic industry will be on the pair’s decisions for allocating the billions of dollars of investment that will hopefully further the adoption of solar technology as an effective source of energy.

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