Like Chu, Moniz is an academic with a doctorate in physics. Unlike Chu, who led an Energy Department lab before becoming energy secretary, Moniz has extensive political experience, having served in the Clinton administration as undersecretary of energy and as a White House science adviser.
"The really good thing about Ernie is he's been there, so he can hit the ground running," said Carol Browner, a former Obama energy adviser who worked with Moniz when she headed the Environmental Protection Agency under President Bill Clinton.
John Deutch, an MIT colleague and former CIA director, called Moniz a "brilliant choice" to lead the Energy Department.
"I think that President Obama has chosen the most qualified individual in the United States for the position of secretary of energy," said Deutch, who led a review of shale-gas drilling for the Energy Department in Obama's first term.
Deutch, who has known Moniz for 30 years, said his longtime colleague has the potential to be "one of the greatest energy secretaries the country has ever had."
Thomas Pyle, president of the Institute for Energy Research, a conservative advocacy group, set his sights a little lower.
If confirmed, Moniz will "inherit an agency with a tarnished record for picking losers and not winners in the energy market," Pyle said. "It is our hope that Dr. Moniz will avoid opportunities to repeat the well-documented mistakes of his predecessor and refuse the temptation to let political pressure trump sound science and economics."
Associated Press writer Dina Cappiello contributed to this report.