“Godfather” of Energy Efficiency Recognized with Tang Prize in Sustainable Development

  • Arthur Rosenfeld, 2016 Tang Prize Laureate in Sustainable Development
A- | A+

Today (June 18) the Tang Prize Foundation commenced its announcements for the 2016 Tang Prize. First of the four prizes to be announced was the 2016 prize in Sustainable Development. Arthur Rosenfeld, known in the field as the “godfather” of energy efficiency, was chosen as the category’s awardee “for his lifelong and pioneering innovations in energy efficiency resulting in immense reductions in energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions around the world.” The award includes a cash prize of US$1.24 million. In addition to the cash prize, a grant of approx. US$311,000 is awarded per category.


Rosenfeld began his illustrious career in particle physics. He earned his PhD at the University of Chicago under the tutelage of legendary physicist and Nobel Laureate Enrico Fermi. During his time as a Professor of Physics at Berkeley, the oil crisis of the 1970s awakened him to the importance of energy conservation. In a phrase that sums up his lifetime of work—“The cheapest energy is what you don’t use.”


In both technology and policy, Rosenfeld has left a lasting legacy in energy. The Center for Building Science, headed by Rosenfeld, developed the high-frequency electronic ballasts which made compact florescent light bulbs possible. They also developed windows which are especially coated to allow visible light to pass while blocking thermal radiation. DOE-1 and DOE-2, computer programs for building energy analysis and design, were developed under Rosenfeld’s leadership; Energy Plus, the renamed and expanded version of DOE-2, has since become standard in many places around the world.


Rosenfeld served as the Senior Advisor to the U.S. Energy Department’s Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy from 1994-1999, then as California’s Energy Commissioner from 2000-2010. During his period in government, he helped pass energy standards for “energy vampires,” which are appliances, such as TVs and computer monitors, which use energy even when they are in “sleep” mode. And in recent years, Rosenfeld has promoted the widespread use of “white roofs” and “white pavement,” which reflect thermal radiation back into the atmosphere rather than absorbing it.


His methods, which cut away at the unessential, are estimated to save $1.8 trillion and 7 billion tons of CO2 emissions by 2030, according to a 2001 US National Academy of Sciences report. Savings are most apparent in California, where per-capita energy usage has remained flat, even while the national average is on a steady rise. This trend has been called the “Rosenfeld Effect” by those in the field.


Founded in 2012 by Samuel Yin, the Tang Prize awards achievements in four categories: Sustainable Development, Biopharmaceutical Science, Sinology, and Rule of Law. The Tang Prize in Sustainable Development recognizes individuals or institutions who have made extraordinary contributions to the sustainable development of human societies, especially through groundbreaking innovations in science and technology.


Nomination and selection of laureates is conducted by Taiwan’s highest academic institution, the Academia Sinica. Recipients are chosen on the basis of the originality of their work along with their contributions to society, irrespective of nationality, ethnicity, gender, and political affiliation.


The newest round of awardees will be announced live streaming on June 18-21, 2016, and will receive the medal, diploma, and cash prize at the award ceremony on September 25 in Taipei.