Except for his irrational CO2 fanaticism - an energy Nobel laureate who takes a job in the cabinet has to know we can't just cut off CO2, the way an academic working at a national lab can talk about it - Chu was a much safer choice than the UFO believers and Doomsday prophets the Obama administration was determined to hire after his victory in November of that year.
Yet he ended up not doing much at all to advance America's energy future, unless you count wasting a lot of money on alternative energy projects in the nationalistic 'we are Americans, we can do anything if we throw enough money at it' fervor that sometimes possesses people.
Now we have a chance to start over, and I have three criteria people who truly care about science - let's leave out those in science media simply gushing over a Democrat with a Nobel prize, the way the bulk of science media is idolizing Chu - should keep in mind for America's energy policy of the next few years.
What we don't want; (1) someone who hates CO2 more than he loves America. As I wrote above, the knock on Chu was always that he had a CO2 fetish and that he was not thinking about energy as much as he was alternative energy advocacy. He proved it with claims we were in a 'race' with China to build cheap solar panels. Now what do we have? $72 billion squandered, scandalous bankruptcies and the solar panels he insisted we have to subsidize are now subsidized even more because we put tariffs on China to punish them for not being as expensive as Chu insisted they should be. This is the same guy who said $9 a gallon gas is good for Americans. That is hating Americans, folks.
So someone who hates the America of today is not what we need again; someone who understands how to balance the needs of a tepid yet still functional economy - and that means we will have some emissions - with supporting basic research into cleaner energy while also utilizing the cleaner energy we have right now, is what we need instead.
That means we also do not want (2) another anti-nuclear zealot in the administration. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is a joke because it has been overrun by people who hate nuclear power. We had a fine storage plan in Yucca mountain, endorsed by thousands of scientists over decades, that was overthrown by Senator Harry Reid and President Obama in the most ridiculous case of Scientization of Politics in recent memory; even more ridiculous than overruling all of the government scientists who said Keystone XL was safe and siding with environmental activists -Chu refused to dissuade his boss from doing the anti-science thing in both instances. This is a harder problem because, as the presence of conservatives in academia attests, once a special interest has power, they hire more of their own and don't easily give up power so the "top" people will be anti-nuclear advocates.
But American activists have done more to prevent safe nuclear power than anyone on the pro-energy side. America leads the world in research and development and if we had been investing in nuclear technology for the last 40 years, instead of letting government be hijacked by environmental lobbyists, everyone would be safer. If we want to assign blame for higher CO2 emissions in the last two decades, it is easy to do; American environmentalists forced us to use coal. And now they want to ban the cleaner energy they always claimed was better than coal - natural gas.
We don't need (3) another director who reads Paul Krugman in the New York Times and believes we can just create a green economy out of fairy tale dust. This is the progressive version of nationalism I refer to above. Unlike the conservative military kind, progressive nationalists insist if we penalize stuff they don't like, and subsidize and mandate the stuff they do like, the private sector capitalism engine will take over, because they are all greedy and corporiation-y, and make it viable. There is a reason Krugman's most famous corporate experience is Enron. He is a pundit - and an economic pundit at that - thus, he should be admired for his gift of prose and ignored when it comes to actual money.
Progressive nationalists, for example, saw that various companies only lost $50 million on some types of solar panel technology and they thought if we just threw $500 million of someone else's money at it, it would somehow work. And $50 billion would be even better. Then they lost all that taxpayer money and invoked American nationalism to blame the Chinese for making solar power too cheap - which they insisted we needed to do.
America needs someone practical this time, not an academic who regards society and our economy as a new laboratory. We're going to get a progressive, and it is going to be someone who will spend money like crazy and hate the few successful energy businesses in America that are still employing people. So items 1 and 3 are probably already impossible to ask for - but if we can keep an anti-nuclear crackpot out of the job, there is at least hope we can use nuclear power and lower greenhouse gas emissions without retreating into the Stone Age.