On January 27, Arthur Rosenfeld, a distinguished scientist lovingly known as the “godfather” of energy efficiency, passed away at the age of 90. He left behind a legacy of scientific advancement that has helped pave the road for energy researchers.

Dr. Rosenfeld studied physics at the University of Chicago, and received his Ph.D. in 1954. Though he began his work as a particle physicist working at the University of California, Berkeley, Dr. Rosenfeld went on to become a leader in the field of energy efficiency. His journey to that position began one day when he realized that he was the only one in his laboratory building who turned the lights off at the end of the day. Frustrated, he spent one Friday evening scouring the building for switches, methodically turning off each light before he left for the weekend. He calculated that this action saved 100 gallons of natural gas for just those few days. This moment helped him realize how easy it is to save energy.

In 1975, he established the Energy Efficient Buildings Program, which was later renamed the Center for Building Science, at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. This program was originally created to help study the impact that developing energy efficient appliances could have, including saving billions of dollars and decreasing overall energy usage.

He was not only an incredible engineer, but also an important political figure. His lobbying work helped convince policymakers in California that building new power plants, which would increase greenhouse gas emissions, was unnecessary. His influence was so strong that the term “The Rosenfeld Effect” was coined to describe the reason why California’s per capita electricity usage has not changed since the mid-1970s, despite the fact that the national average for this metric has continued to tick upwards.

Arthur Rosenfeld was one of the first people to truly understand the implication of externality costs. In his brief autobiography, he wrote, “Whereas Americans largely purchased by least ‘first cost’, Europeans understood and operated under the concept of ‘Lifecycle Cost.’” This lifecycle cost included costs to the environment as well as taxes from importing oil.

During his study of energy usage in the United States, he also helped to delineate crucial social factors that contributed to American’s vast overuse of oil and gas resources, stating “…it took us only a few days to understand why we in the United States used so much energy; oil and gas were as cheap as dirt or water, and so they were treated like dirt or water.”

His insights helped spur the green energy revolution. His research into energy efficiency also landed him an advisory role at the Department of Energy during Bill Clinton’s presidency. In addition, Dr. Rosenfeld was a member of the California Energy commission for 10 years, from 2000 to 2010.

Dr. Rosenfeld spoke at an EESI briefing, "Cool Roofs for Cooler Summers," in July 2011.

During the course of his life, Arthur Rosenfeld was lauded as one of the top scientists in the country. In 2006, he was awarded the Enrico Fermi Award, one of the nation’s top science honors, by President George W. Bush. In 2011, President Barack Obama awarded him the National Medal of Technology and Innovation.

Dr. Rosenfeld is survived by two daughters, Dr. Margaret Rosenfeld and Dr. Anne Hansen, and six grandchildren.


Author: Emma Dietz