Energy, environment, jobs, national security, anti-terrorism, independence, future prosperity -- the responsibilities of the Secretary of the DOE are as enormous as they are endless. The rumored nomination of Ernest Moniz for this position raises the question: what qualifies a candidate?
I believe three overriding qualities dominate: the wisdom to understand what needs to be done; the experience to understand how to get it done; and the integrity to rise above both political pressure and technological parochialism to serve the nation’s interests first and foremost.
Let’s face it: energy is an enormous topic. Even small subsets of energy -- take CPV or storage -- require staggering amounts of time and information to master. Finding any one person possessing deep expertise (technical, systemic, economic, political, and social) across the broad energy spectrum is a tremendous challenge. Utility executives understand power grids and regulation, but what about genetically engineered microorganisms for biofuel? Solar developers may understand photons and rooftops, but do they understand the nuclear threat from rogue states? You get the point.
If you get lucky, really lucky, you occasionally find a candidate who has demonstrated depth across many energy technologies and their related industries, and understands, on a systems level, their realistic chances to be significant components of the U.S. and global energy future.
Moniz is such a candidate.
The second essential characteristic is knowing how to get things done, both at the national and local levels. Washington, D.C. is a tough place; a brilliant scientist or solar guru trying to shape national and international policy might get chewed up and spit out before lunch. What good is genius if it can’t forge the necessary alliances and coalitions to deploy innovative solutions?
In the current climate of partisan brinkmanship, it is absolutely essential that a candidate possess professional gravitas to earn opponents’ respect and eventual support, plus solid experience in how D.C. works. Moniz’s prior experience as Under Secretary of DOE means he can hit the ground running, knowing which battles are worth fighting and avoiding the mistakes of a political newcomer.
But that’s still not enough. Can the candidate also effectively engage at the local level with entrepreneurs, SMEs, investors and researchers who are spinning out new companies and creating America’s energy future? As Director of MIT’s acclaimed Energy Initiative, Moniz successfully operates at the very epicenter of this dynamic nexus of America’s best energy thinkers and doers. He understands how to turn energy research into real companies and jobs.
Tip O’Neill once said, “All politics is local.” So ultimately is energy, and Moniz understands this as well.
The third essential characteristic is the integrity to do the right thing. Every candidate will come with baggage: personal and professional affiliations, technological views, industry preferences, etc. At this critical juncture in America’s development, tough energy policy choices will determine much of our future. We absolutely and unquestionably need a Secretary of DOE with the highest integrity to make these hard choices, always with the nation’s interests first.
Heavy lies the crown, but I believe Ernest Moniz will not disappoint.