In Memoriam: Arthur H. Rosenfeld, Eminent physicist, inspirational researcher, energy efficiency maven

1926 - 2017

In Memoriam: Arthur H. Rosenfeld, Eminent physicist, inspirational researcher, energy efficiency maven

Art Rosenfeld, Berkeley Lab scientist, scholar-activist, and public servant.

Arthur Hinton Rosenfeld passed away Friday January 27, 2017. He was 90 years old.

Over the course of his career he inspired thousands of students, post-docs, and other researchers to make the world a better (and more efficient) place, and motivated policy-makers to adopt these ideas with a combination of personal charm and convincing analysis. His quick wit, enthusiasm, and unrivaled personal energy made him a beloved figure in the world of energy efficiency policy and technology.

Even when expressing controversial ideas, he did it in a disarming and often whimsical way, without putting his ego in the debate. He communicated a sense of wonder and innocence, all the while recognizing the importance of getting the numbers right. He unerringly identified the right questions to ask about the right topics, and had the persistence to take research results all the way to advocacy that had real societal impact. And he did it with a friendly and collegial charm that is reflected in the fact that his students referred to him as "Art" rather than the expected "Professor Rosenfeld".

Born in Alabama on June 22, 1926, Art spent his childhood years in Egypt, where his father was a consultant to the Egyptian sugarcane industry. He graduated with a B.S. in physics at age 18, enlisted in the Navy towards the end of the war, and afterwards enrolled in the Physics Department of the University of Chicago, where Enrico Fermi accepted him as his last graduate student.

Art married Roselyn Bernheim in 1955. They had three children, Margaret, Anne, and Art junior (Chip).

Luis Alvarez in his Physics Lab in Berkeley

Art Rosenfeld worked in Luis Alvarez's Physics Lab in Berkeley, but later turned his attention to energy efficiency and founded what would later become the Energy Technologies Area at Berkeley Lab.

After receiving his Ph.D. in Physics in 1954, Rosenfeld joined the physics faculty at the University of California at Berkeley, where he worked in, (and from 1969 to 1974, led) the particle physics group ("Group A") of subsequent Nobel Prize winner Luis Alvarez at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL).

The oil embargo of 1973 galvanized Art; and he began asking endless questions. Why were Bay Area offices all brightly lit at 2AM when nobody was there? Why were California home-heating bills comparable to those in Minnesota? Why were utilities giving away free 200-watt electric light bulbs? And why were the then popular Eichler Homes using electric resistance heating with no roof insulation? For what activities, and in what devices, was the US consuming energy? And what where the physics-based limits for how little energy these activities really needed?

These and other questions led Art and several of his colleagues to frame the energy problem as "How to accomplish society's goals most efficiently and cheaply" rather than "How to supply enough energy." This reframing was revolutionary in the era that most people thought energy consumption and economic growth always increased in lockstep.

Following a yearlong "sabbatical" from particle physics, Professor Rosenfeld decided to continue working on the efficient use of energy, mainly in buildings. He eventually founded the Center for Building Science at LBNL, which he led until 1994. Art attracted a cadre of talented, creative, and energetic people to LBNL in the 1970s and early 1980s, and these leaders helped Art build a world-class center for energy and environment studies. The center also inspired a small army of students at UC Berkeley to focus on energy efficiency, and these researchers helped build the energy efficiency industry once they left the university.

Art's contributions to the fledgling knowledge base of building science were seminal, and he is widely considered the father of energy efficiency. The Center for Building Science developed a broad range of energy efficiency technologies, including electronic ballasts for fluorescent lighting—a key component of compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs)—and a transparent coating for window glass that blocks heat from either escaping (winter) or entering (summer). He was personally responsible for developing the DOE-2 series of computer programs for building energy analysis and design that has been the gold standard for building energy analysis for more than 25 years.

Art's work quickly took him into the policy arena. In 1975, Utilities had selected sites, and requested permits for 17 GW of power plants to come online by 1987. But long before 1987, all but 3 GW had been quietly forgotten. An even more extravagant report by Ronald Doctor of the RAND in Santa Monica had projected need for 150 GW of new power plants for California by 2000, which would put one GW of power plants every 3 miles along the coast between San Diego and San Francisco. Art worked with legislators, regulators and the then new California Energy Commission to implement much less-expensive efficiency policies that made those plants superfluous. California's peak demand has been held to 60 GW today. So in retrospect, we have avoided at least $75 billion in wasted investment.

Art was the co-founder of the American Council for an Energy Efficiency Economy (ACEEE), and the University of California's Institute for Energy and the Environment (CIEE). He was the author or co-author of over 400 refereed publications or book chapters.

During the Clinton administration Art served from 1994 through 1999 as Senior Advisor to the U.S. Department of Energy's Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. He also served as Commissioner at the California Energy Commission (CEC), after California Governor Gray Davis appointed him in 2000. He was reappointed in 2005 by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

In 2010 he returned to LBNL and was elected to the National Academy of Engineering. In that same year he was appointed Distinguished Scientist Emeritus at LBNL. Until his death he devoted his attention to an international campaign for the adoption of white roofs and "cool colored" surfaces to reduce heat islands and mitigate global warming.

Close-up of the Enrico Fermi Award medal

Enrico Fermi Award medal

His many awards and honors include the Szilard Award for Physics in the Public Interest (1986), the U.S. Department of Energy's Carnot Award for Energy Efficiency (1993), the University of California's Berkeley Citation (2001), the Global Energy Prize from President Medvedev of Russia (2011), the National Medal of Technology and Innovation from President Obama (2013), and the Tang Prize for Sustainable Development (2016).

When friends asked him what he does for relaxation, Art used to say "relaxing makes me nervous". He did enjoy going jogging every weekend, particularly with his children.

Of all his prizes he was most proud of the Enrico Fermi Award in 2006, the oldest and one of the most prestigious science and technology awards given by the U.S. government and named for his mentor. Dr. Rosenfeld received the Fermi Award from Energy Secretary Samuel W. Bodman on behalf of President George W. Bush, "for a lifetime of achievement ranging from pioneering scientific discoveries in experimental nuclear and particle physics to innovations in science, technology, and public policy for energy conservation that continue to benefit humanity." This award recognizes scientists of international stature for a lifetime of exceptional achievement in the development, use, control, or production of energy.

Professor John Holdren, director of White House Office of Science and Technology Policy under President Obama says, "Art Rosenfeld had an enormous impact on U.S. energy policy, starting in the early 1970s, with his insights and compelling quantitative analyses pointing to the potential of increased end-use efficiency as the cheapest, cleanest, surest response to the nation's energy challenges."

Art Rosenfeld with his daughters Margaret and Anne.

Dr. Rosenfeld is survived by daughters Dr. Margaret Rosenfeld and Dr. Anne Hansen, two granddaughters and four grandsons, as well as the entire energy efficiency community.


This article was prepared by Art Rosenfeld's former graduate students and longtime friends and admirers, Ashok Gadgil, David B. Goldstein, and Jonathan Koomey.

Additional Information

To learn more about Art Rosenfeld's life and career, go to the Art Rosenfeld Memorial Page.

Any gifts in Art's memory are to be made to the Global Cool Cities Alliance and UC Berkeley's Art Rosenfeld Award for Energy Efficiency.

Additional Quotes:

John Holdren, Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy: "Art Rosenfeld had an enormous impact on U.S. energy policy, starting in the early 1970s, with his insights and compelling quantitative analyses pointing to the potential of increased end-use efficiency as the cheapest, cleanest, surest response to the nation's energy challenges. He was also an indispensable partner to me and the late Prof. C. K. "Ned" Birdsall in creating, in 1973, the superb interdisciplinary graduate-degree program in energy and resources at U.C. Berkeley that, since then and with Art's help, has trained a remarkable share of today's energy-and-environment leaders, not only in the United States but around the world."

Jerry Brown, Governor, State of California: "In 1975, Art Rosenfeld told me that simply by requiring more efficient refrigerators, California could save as much energy as would be produced by the proposed Sundesert Nuclear Power plant. We adopted Art's refrigerator standards and many others, did not build the power plant, and moved the country to greater energy efficiency. This is but a small piece of Art's legacy and his central role across decades of promoting energy efficiency in California and around the world."

Steven Chu, Former US Secretary of Energy: "I was a graduate student at Berkeley during the time of the 1973 OPEC Oil embargo. I remember a Physics Colloquium Art in the mid-1970s gave where he outlined a number of common-sense actions - such as inflating tires beyond the pressure recommended to create a "soft ride." To this day, I have followed that advice. As the time of his colloquium, I didn't understand why a successful high-energy physicist in his mid-forties was willing to abruptly abandon a distinguished career and turn to energy efficiency. Over the years, I grew to appreciate how his indefatigable, high-energy devotion to our energy challenges became a role model for a large number of younger scientists, including myself. It is a privilege to have known and worked with Art, who is a warm, gracious and generous individual.

Art went on to play a central role reshaping energy use in California with his advocacy of appliance energy efficiency standards, building energy efficiency standards. Technically, he pioneered and championed numerous innovation including energy efficient window coatings, electronic ballasts in compact fluorescence light bulbs, and white roofs.

The legacy of his impact is staggering. Before the 1973 OPEC Oil Embargo, electric use per capita in US as a whole and in California, in particular, was growing out of control at 5%/yr. The US responded remarkably to the oil shortage and price shock, and has reduced its electric growth rate to 1.5% per year, but that still adds up to a 50% increase from 1973 to 2012. California's response has been even more remarkable. The State has frozen per capita electricity growth, despite huge electrification, by methodical introduction of advanced appliance and building standards and the creation of a $1B/yr energy efficiency program funded by a "public goods" charge on electric bills. This marked change in per capita energy was accurately identified as the "Rosenfeld Effect," which is continuing today, four decades later. California is now down to energy intensity levels comparable with Western Europe."

In the Media

New York Times, Arthur Rosenfeld, Zealous Champion of Energy Efficiency, Dies at 90

San Francisco Chronicle, Art Rosenfeld, pioneer in energy efficiency, dies

San Jose Mercury News, Art Rosenfeld, California's godfather of energy efficiency, dies

KQED, Remembering Energy Guru Art Rosenfeld, Father of the 'Negawatt'

Focus Taiwan, Tang Prize laureate Arthur H. Rosenfeld dies

University of California News, Art Rosenfeld, California's godfather of energy efficiency, dies at 90

ABC7 News 5:00 PM, January 27, 2017, Video: News segment about Art Rosenfeld

Video: California Governor Jerry Brown on Art Rosenfeld