Secretary of Energy Visits
Secretary of Energy Steven Chu
Climate change, alternative energy, the smart grid — headline-grabbing topics.
A group of energy-minded Carnegie Mellon University students enjoyed a rare opportunity last week — discussing these issues and more with U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu.
The exclusive Q&A session held at CMU's Tepper School of Business was hosted by the Tepper Energy Club and also attended by doctoral students of the Carnegie Mellon Electricity Industry Center.
Interdisciplinary energy research and education is a key strategic initiative for Carnegie Mellon. Using its strength in collaborative effort, CMU is committed to working toward a sustainable energy future and was honored to have Chu as a guest of the university.
Eager to engage with the group, Chu, a Nobel laureate in physics, spoke only briefly before he sat and opened the packed room for questions.
Discussion topics ranged from the future of the nuclear industry post-Fukushima to smart grid technologies.
"Fukushima reminded us that you can't let your guard down," said Chu. "And it doesn't matter where around the world, if you have a nuclear accident, it affects everyone."
Chu added, "The other thing is the price of natural gas, now the least expensive way of generating electricity. That has a huge impact on nuclear investment."
Regarding smart grid technologies he stated that a smarter grid would enable us to direct energy more efficiently.
"We're still in the middle of the 20th century — our electrical system would be recognizable by Edison and Tesla," Chu said. "We pour electricity in the top and it all trickles down — overfilling it so it reaches all the nooks and crannies. And if you lose just that couple percent, it's still a really high number."
CMU is invested in addressing the world's need for smart alternative energy sources. The university has established a Smart Grid Research Center in partnership with the Semiconductor Research Corporation — the world's leading university-industry research consortium for semiconductors and related technologies.
In answer to one student's question, Chu provided the student audience with energy career advice.
"There's an incredible shortage of really high-quality power electronics engineers. I see a big, big market, nationally and internationally," Chu shared.
"I also see a big market in developing new financial instruments for investment. Installation of a known technology uses a reputable company and requires a power purchase agreement — there's no public market for this kind of investment but if you could borrow money at 8 to 10 percent, it would drive investment forward tremendously."
Secretary Chu is a return visitor to the CMU community, having lectured at Carnegie Mellon University in Qatar in 2010.
"It's OK to make money and save the world and keep America prosperous," said Chu to the CMU students. "There are a lot of exciting opportunities and it's something I try to encourage, so here I am."
Other examples of CMU's commitment to energy and the environment include the Green Design Institute, the Steinbrenner Institute for Environmental Education & Research and the university's role with the Department of Energy's National Energy Technology Laboratory.