With gas prices hovering around four dollars a gallon and more evidence mounting about the effects of global warming, Americans are looking for leaders to develop alternative energy sources and make our nation more energy efficient in the future. For several years Steve Chalk has quietly been working to provide this leadership through his innovative work at the Energy Department. Thanks to Chalk’s work, the clean energy future is now in some U.S. cities, in areas ranging from fuel cell technology to solar energy.
As Deputy Assistant Secretary of Renewable Energy at the Department of Energy, Chalk has led a number of our government’s most ambitious efforts to develop cleaner, renewable energy sources.
He recently led an effort to establish an ethanol industry in the United States based on nonfood biomass sources. This initiative has helped establish commercial plants that are converting wood and wood waste from pine forests and mills into millions of gallons of ethanol per year. Chalk expects this initiative to help create six of these ethanol plants across the country over the next four years.
He also planned and executed the largest federal effort ever to develop solar energy. This initiative is developing cost-competitive photovoltaic cells that convert sunlight directly into electricity. He has created public-private partnerships to support this project, which include large corporations, universities and federal research laboratories. He has also enlisted 25 cities to promote solar energy use in their communities.
Chalk has been the architect and driving force behind our government’s efforts to promote hydrogen fuel technology. In 2002, he began pushing hard for federal research funding for hydrogen fuel cells. His plans ultimately made their way into President Bush’s 2003 State of the Union address, and the Department of Energy, since that time, has worked hand in hand with the U.S. auto industry to create better and longer-range hydrogen fuel cell-powered vehicles. They are currently testing hydrogen fuel cell/battery-powered hybrid vehicles around the country.
The impact of Chalk’s work is being felt everywhere from Kansas to Cajun country.
When the city of Greensburg, Kansas, was completely destroyed by a tornado in May 2007, the employees at the Department of Energy weren’t sure how they could help. Many thought that they simply did not have the resources to spare, but Chalk would not accept this and set out to work on a plan to help rebuild the town utilizing energy efficient and renewable energy technologies. Using limited resources and with help from the National Renewable Energy Lab, Chalk put together a team—including some who were stationed in Greensburg. Together, they educated town officials on how to rebuild their town in a cost-effective, energy efficient way that utilizes local, renewable energy resources. After months of research and training, Greensburg’s city council made the groundbreaking announcement that their town will be completely run by renewable energy resources — wind power with a biofuel-powered backup generator for when the wind isn’t blowing. They also have committed to making all new buildings 40 percent more energy efficient.
Chalk is also helping to rebuild New Orleans schools to be energy efficient, which will subsequently bring down energy costs. When these efficient schools are combined with onsite renewable energy generation, such as photovoltaics, the schools can serve as reliable shelters in the event of another disaster.
The impact of Steve Chalk’s work is already being felt across the country, but it has the potential to prove even more important in the months and years ahead. His vision has set into motion a fundamental change in America’s energy policy and practices, and he is helping to move America along the path toward energy independence.