Inspirational ‘godfather’ of energy efficiency passes away aged 90

Art Rosenfeld, the “godfather” of energy efficiency, credited with being personally responsible for stimulating billions of dollars in energy savings, has died in Berkeley, California. He was 90.

A particle physicist who decided one evening over 40 years ago to turn off unused lights in his university office building, Prof. Rosenfeld went on to create the field of energy efficiency. He inspired an entire generation of energy researchers, and conducted rigorous engineering analyses that lead to breakthroughs in low-energy lighting, windows, refrigerators and buildings. He convinced utilities and policymakers that new power plants—and their accompanying greenhouse gas emissions—were not necessary.

When over 70 he worked as an advisor to President Bill Clinton, and was appointed as California utility commissioner.

The term “Rosenfeld effect” was coined to explain why California’s per capita electricity usage has remained flat since the mid-1970s while US usage has climbed steadily and is now 50 percent higher than it was 40 years ago. He is also behind “Rosenfeld’s Law,” which states that the amount of energy required to produce one dollar of economic output has decreased by about 1 percent per year since 1845.

Rosenfeld was famous for his detailed calculations, but he also had a knack for translating the results into terms that could be easily understood. For the layperson, results were expressed not in scientific units but in terms of equivalencies, such as how many cars would be taken off the road or how many power plants would not need to be built.

In 2010, 54 scientists from 26 institutions around the world co-authored a paper proposing “the Rosenfeld” (see EiBI May 2010). This is a unit of measurement to express that very concept—they defined the Rosenfeld as electricity savings of 3bn kWh per year, the amount needed to replace the annual generation of a 500MW coal-fired power plant.

In 2012 President Obama awarded him the National Medal of Technology and Innovation, one of the highest honours bestowed by the United States Government upon scientists, engineers, and inventors.

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