Steven Chu, former US Secretary of Energy, discusses sustainable energy options

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Nobel laureate Steven Chu, former U.S. Secretary of Energy and former director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, returned to UC Berkeley on Monday to discuss sustainable energy usage in the wake of rising global temperatures and climate concerns.

Addressing an audience of approximately 120 students, faculty and other community members at Anna Head Alumnae Hall, Chu presented data on the costliest natural catastrophes in the past 60 years, emphasizing that six out of the seven weather-related incidents have occurred in the past eight years.

Like the increase in lung cancer death rates that came 25 years after the onset of smoking in American society, many environmental problems have started to and will continue to belatedly emerge, Chu explained.

To reduce the rate of climate change, Chu talked about streamlining the electricity usage of household appliances and promoting alternative energy resources by encouraging utility companies to partner with the solar energy industry.

As secretary of energy from January 2009 to April 2013, Chu pushed for the implementation of efficiency standards for household appliances. In December, due largely to Chu’s past efforts, the federal government announced baseline energy-use caps for set-top boxes, devices found in many homes that convert source signals into television content.

Still, reflecting on this, Chu expressed disappointment in not having set higher energy standards.

“It’s a shame — I apologize for not staying another year or two,” he said jokingly, though adding, on a more serious note, that he would have continued to push companies to make their devices as energy efficient as possible.

On the topic of alternative renewable energy sources, Chu brought some optimism to the room, noting that wind turbines and solar panels have become more reliable, more efficient and cheaper in recent years.

As a long-term goal, he also proposed that utility companies install and maintain rooftop electricity and in-home energy storage for consumers. This would give utility companies a role in the deployment of solar energy, Chu said.

Despite the recent increases in America’s investment in renewable energy sources, sophomore Angel Li, who attended the talk, said she hopes for more international cooperation, as renewable energy cannot yet completely supplant traditional fossil fuels.

Presenting a photo of Earth taken from the first mission to the moon in 1968, when he was still an undergraduate student, Chu ended his address with a call to action.

“When you stare at this image, Earth looks pretty good from here, and guess what? There’s nowhere else to go, so we (have) got to figure this one out,” Chu said.

The event was hosted by the Berkeley Forum, a nonpartisan student-run organization that hosts debates, talks and panels on a wide variety of topics. In March, the organization invited Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, to discuss domestic spying.

Contact Heyun Jeong at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @heyunjeong.