Dr S T Lee Public Policy Lecture 2014: Steven Chu on energy and climate change

17 November 2014


Reported by Isabel Webb, BBSRC-Funded CSaP Policy Intern (September 2014 - December 2014)

In November 2014, Professor Steven Chu, a Nobel Prize winner and former US Secretary of Energy under President Obama, visited the University of Cambridge to deliver the 2014 Dr S T Lee Public Policy Lecture on energy and climate change.

You can watch and listen to the lecture recording here:

In his talk, Steven compared the 25-year delay between people taking up tobacco smoking and dying from cancer with the half-century it could take before we see the damage caused to our environment through greenhouse gas emissions and burning fossil fuels.

Professor Chu focused on the potential for renewables such as wind and solar power, and stressed the need for innovation to drive down costs and improve electricity production and distribution. He was particularly optimistic about the future of batteries which have vastly improved in the past few years, becoming more efficient and cost-effective. He believed that improved battery technology could be "as disruptive to electricity generation and distribution as the cell phone and the internet were to communications".

However, although there had been a surge in new ideas and new technologies in the last decade that hadn’t been seen in the previous three decades, utility companies were moving at “glacial speed” in adopting these developments.

Professor Chu concluded by saying that renewable energy must become the cheapest solution if we are to stop pumping oil. “It’s all about money”, he said. “If renewable energy doesn’t become the new low-cost solution, as long as there is oil in the ground, we will continue to pump it.”

S T Lee Lectures

The Dr S T Lee Public Policy lectures were established in 2003 thanks to a benefaction from Seng Tee Lee, Singaporean business executive, philanthropist and Honarary Fellow of Wolfson College, Cambridge. Each lecture considers aspects of scientific, medical or technological research and developments that are likely to have significant implications for public policy over the next decade.

Banner image from Benjamin Nolan on Flickr

Professor Steven Chu

University of Stanford

Isabel Webb: Case study

John Innes Centre