Chu's Legacy: Parting Words for Next Energy Czar to Consider

By · February 04, 2013

Steven Chu

U.S. Department of Energy Secretary Steven Chu resigned on Friday. His 3,700-word letter of resignation can be read as his final official words on the state of affairs regarding energy in the United States, and his best wishes that his legacy of support for various technologies, such as EVs, be sustained by his successor.

While on Friday he backed off President Obama's goal of 1 million plug-in cars by 2015, his optimism about the EV market is clear. One of the most important considerations is price, and the former Secretary sees hopes in the trend of EV price reductions—which could continue to come down so that in less than a decade, plug-in cars will not require government incentives.

I understood that the Chevy Volt has sold 24,000 since 2011 and the Nissan LEAF has remarkable price reductions that we're very, very excited about. With the current subsidies, this actually puts it under $20,000.

But, as I said before, we need $20,000 with no subsidies by 2022. This would be very exciting. When you get close to that, even $25,000, the market will speak for itself and so that's why we're so focused on improving the technology.”

Dr. Chu made it clear that EVs are not compromised vehicles—just the opposite. He indicated that plug-in cars currently offer features and benefits that put them at a distinctive advantage compared to internal combustion vehicles.

Some people say, 'unless you get every single feature of an internal combustion engine car, the customers won't accept that. Every single feature? Let's talk about features you could not get with an internal combustion car or a normal hybrid. I look forward to the day when I have a smart phone of some kind and, two minutes before I get into the car, I push a little button and say, 'make my car cool' or 'make my car warm,' because most of the trips are 5-10 minutes and you're either freezing or you're sweating for the first couple minutes. With an EV, even a mild plug-in, you can condition the thing before you get in.

For those of you that actually pour gasoline into your cars, you might, at some time, have spilled gasoline on your hands or clothes, and when I do that, my hands stink of gasoline. So, look at all the other features.

Chu also indicated that electric vehicles represent a burgeoning new technology and market, in which U.S. manufacturers can take a leadership role. This indirectly suggests that D.O.E. loans and consumer incentives for plug-in vehicles are a good investment in the American economy.

We used to be the undisputed leader in the auto industry. We were not at the beginning. We didn't invent the internal combustion engine, we didn't invent the automobile. That was done in Europe. But very shortly after that, we took the lead and held it for roughly a half century. So, that program is an important program and if we can use it to actually have sustainable businesses that succeed as something to bring back and retain our leadership in the future, we will look at all applications.

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 may not be known for decades. What matters is that our country will reap the benefits of what we have started.

The EV market is still young, and many factors could influence that rate of its growth. With the departure of Steven Chu from the role of Energy Secretary, President Obama's choice for that position in his second administration will have a major impact on plug-in car technology, infrastructure and incentives for the next four years, and beyond.

New to EVs? Start here

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  3. Buying Your First Home EV Charger
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