Choosing the Energy Secretary in a Biden administration: Research or deployment?


A few months ago, we listed potential Biden administration DOE Secretary appointees — gleaned from Twitter’s collective wisdom. We’ve updated the tally and the leader’s list, seeing as Biden is now president-elect. The same names keep popping up.

The clear crowd favorite is still Washington Governor Jay Inslee. Here’s Inslee’s clean energy manifesto, developed over his career and honed on his curtailed presidential campaign.

Although, Inslee might end up as clean power czar or head of the EPA.

There have been additional votes for Ernest Moniz and Elon Musk. As well as Martin Heinrich, David Hochschild, Saul Griffith, Sandra Steingraber, Jennifer Granholm, Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall, Jan Mazurek, Susan Tierney, Anne Pramaggiore, Sean Casten, Amy Klobuchar and Jason Bordoff.

President-elect Biden is considering creating a White House office led by a global warming “czar.” Candidates for the head role reportedly include former Secretary of State John Kerry, and Washington Governor Jay Inslee.

Perhaps more insightful than Twitter’s choice of DOE Secretary is its take on the job and the cabinet itself. A large number of tweets asked for the creation of a cabinet-level climate czar and the elevation of the EPA to cabinet department. Other tweets called for breaking up the DOE into a sub-cabinet-level nuclear weapons and stockpile agency and a cabinet-level agency dedicated to the low-carbon energy transition.

Research or deployment?

Politico is handicapping the Biden Cabinet competition and has come up with these contenders for Energy.

  • Ernest Moniz, nuclear physicist who was President Obama’s Energy secretary and has been an informal adviser to the Biden campaign on energy matters.
  • Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall served as deputy secretary of energy during Obama’s second term, and as White House coordinator for Defense Policy, Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction, and Arms Control.
  • Arun Majumdar is the founding chief of ARPA-E. He later served as acting under secretary of the DOE under Moniz and is now on the Stanford University faculty.

Jigar Shah, today with Generate, was speaking about Moniz in 2013 but his words were prescient, then and now. And they apply to any candidate steeped in the academy or the lab.

“With the likely nomination of Ernest Moniz as the Secretary of Energy, President Obama has chosen invention over deployment — and R&D over job creation and carbon reduction.”

He added, “Innovation that is not deployed leaves the president’s promise of oil independence and renewable electricity unfulfilled.

“We need a “deployment” Energy Secretary. One who understands how entrepreneurs move from research to revenue. One who understands the difference between venture capital and project finance — the difference between research and deployment.

“What we need is a plan, industry coordination, finance securitization, and to actualize the notion that clean energy access is the number-one thing we can export to lift millions out of poverty. America has invested the technologies to show the world how to democratize energy. Finding the right Secretary of Energy to deploy existing solutions to drive the next economy is the crucial next step.”

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