Remembering Energy Guru Art Rosenfeld, Father of the ‘Negawatt’

2011 National Medal of Technology and Innovation Laureate Art Rosenfeld with President Obama - February 1, 2013.

Energy guru Art Rosenfeld was awarded the 2011 National Medal of Technology and Innovation. (© 2013 The Regents of the University of California, through the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab.)

Listen to Andrea Kissack’s 2010 profile of Rosenfeld, produced for KQED’s Quest.

For decades, journalists couldn’t do a story on energy efficiency in California — or maybe anywhere — without somebody saying, “You really should talk to Art Rosenfeld.”

The physicist, who became known well beyond the confines of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory as the “godfather” of energy efficiency, died Friday at the age of 90.

Rosenfeld’s obituary on the Berkeley Lab website credits him with creating the field of energy efficiency — something the state of California has taken to heart. Atop the enormous gains and “billions of dollars” in energy savings attained under Rosenfeld’s influence and leadership,  Governor Jerry Brown last year set a target of cutting energy use by  buildings in half by 2030 — a goal that legislators have since made law.

Art Rosenfeld at the chalkboard, at Lawrence Berkeley National Lab.
Art Rosenfeld at the chalkboard, at Lawrence Berkeley National Lab. (Lawrence Berkeley National Labor© 2010 The Regents of the University of California, through the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.)

KQED’s Andrea Kissack interviewed Rosenfeld when, at 83, he stepped down from his post on the California Energy Commission. His very first comment for the story is memorable.

“I’ve often said that the price of liberty is eternal vigilance but the price of energy efficiency is eternal nagging,” he told Kissack. (Follow the link above or use the audio player  to hear the entire story.)

Though he could have eased into retirement at that point with a stellar career behind him, instead Rosenfeld returned to Berkeley Lab to work on the challenge of urban “heat islands” and to study ways to create “cool cities” in the face of global warming.

Rosenfeld attained that rare pinnacle of achievement where people start naming things after you. There was a “Rosenfeld effect,” a “Rosenfeld’s Law,” and even a proposed unit of measure known as the Rosenfeld.


In the 1970s, Rosenfeld’s counsel is famously credited with the scrapping of plans for a nuclear power plant, after he advised Brown during his first stint as governor, that tightening efficiency standards on home appliances would obviate the need for it. With that, it may have been Rosenfeld who first introduced the concept of “negawatts” — the value of the energy we never use — championed by author Thomas Friedman and others.

In 2012 President Barack Obama awarded Rosenfeld the National Medal of Technology and Innovation.




  • Heather Matteson

    I’m curious to see the difference between efficiency gains in coastal areas versus the Central Valley – as climate change worsens and we get more extreme weather events, it seems like we’ll need more energy for heating and cooling, and that difference will be localized in certain areas – possible those with less resources and ability to perform efficiency measures. We need to remember #environmentaljustice


Craig Miller

Craig is KQED's science editor, specializing in weather, climate, water & energy issues, with a little seismology thrown in just to shake things up. Prior to his current position, he launched and led the station's award-winning multimedia project, Climate Watch. Craig is also an accomplished writer/producer of television documentaries, with a focus on natural resource issues.

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