Art Rosenfeld, a Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) Distinguished Scientist Emeritus who is also known as California’s “godfather” of energy efficiency and who has been credited with being personally responsible for billions of dollars in energy savings, died Friday at his home in Berkeley, California. He was 90.
A particle physicist who decided one evening four decades ago to turn off unused lights in his Berkeley Lab office building, Rosenfeld went on to create the field of energy efficiency, inspire an entire generation of energy researchers, and conduct the rigorous engineering analyses that would lead to breakthroughs in low-energy lighting, windows, refrigerators, buildings, and many other areas, while convincing utilities and policymakers that new power plants—and their accompanying greenhouse gas emissions—were not necessary.
“Art’s leadership in the field of energy efficiency truly shaped the way an entire generation of researchers and policymakers worked together to conserve resources,” said Berkeley Lab Director Mike Witherell. “He helped enlarge the vision of what a national lab can do—for the great benefit of humankind.”
The term “Rosenfeld effect” was coined to explain why California’s per capita electricity usage has remained flat since the mid-1970s while U.S. 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.
His many admirers included former Secretary of Energy Steve Chu, who has called him a “hero.” “Art was one of the most decent, generous, engaging, passionate, and thoughtful people that I have known. His wonderful persistence in asking interesting, important questions and being completely open to new ideas makes him a compelling colleague,” Chu said. “The climate crisis has given his work even greater significance. Indeed, it is no exaggeration to say that the field Art pioneered is now indispensable in how we transition to a sustainable future.”