Arthur Rosenfeld (1926-2017): Remembering the Godfather of Energy Efficiency

Mark Henderson

“The cheapest energy is what you don’t use.” – Art Rosenfeld

The energy efficiency community received sad news late last week, when news broke that Arthur (Art) Rosenfeld had passed away at the age of 90. While you may not have heard of him previously, for many on our industry, Rosenfeld was a household name. His tireless commitment to improving the efficiency of energy production and use throughout his life led to billions of dollars in energy savings and directly informed California’s energy policy—laying the foundation for the statewide regulations and utility-sponsored programs that make Ecova’s work possible.

Rosenfeld, a particle physicist, experienced an epiphany in 1974 when the impact of the Arab oil embargo reached the United States. He became aware of the energy wasted every day at his lab and grew interested in strategies and technologies for reducing America’s dependency on oil. This interest led Rosenfeld to found the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory’s Center for Building Science in 1975, where he spent two decades developing the technology to support efficiency standards for new buildings in California. From new lighting products like CFLs to energy-saving refrigerators, Rosenfeld’s innovative work shaped the modern energy landscape. It also led to what scientists call “Rosenfeld effect” in California, where total per capita electricity use has stayed relatively flat while rising significantly in the United States overall.

In addition to these technical developments, Rosenfeld advocated powerfully for regulations to make power plants more energy-efficient while persuading utilities and policymakers to support energy efficiency initiatives. He helped form the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) in 1980, which continues to lead our industry in promoting energy-efficient policies and technology. Later he was recruited by President Bill Clinton to serve as a senior adviser on energy efficiency in the DOE and, in 2000, appointed to the California Energy Commission by Governor Gray Davis. Until his retirement in 2010, Rosenfeld brought his passion for energy efficiency to utilities, governments and consumers across the globe.

Most importantly, Rosenfeld’s vision was strengthened by his ability to convey the need for increased efficiency—and describe the technologies that could achieve this goal—in simple, actionable terms. Without his work, the utility energy efficiency industry simply would not exist today.

On a personal note, I was honored to have seen Rosenfeld’s brilliance firsthand at a pivotal point in my career. In 2004, shortly after I joined Ecos Consulting (acquired by Ecova in 2011), the company organized an event celebrating the accomplishments of “The Founders of Efficiency”: Art Rosenfeld, Amory Lovins and Ralph Cavanagh. It was a major event in Portland and made quite an impact on me just as I was entering this energy industry. Art was a genius with a passion for conservation and efficiency. He will be missed.

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  • Jana schmidt

    Well said, Mark. Cheers to Art.

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