Arthur Rosenfeld Passes Away at 90

  • Arthur H. Rosenfeld, 2014 Tang Prize Laureate in Sustainable Development
A- | A+

Arthur H. Rosenfeld, who was awarded the Tang Prize in Sustainable Development in 2016, passed away on January 27 at the age of 90.


Rosenfeld was announced as the winner of the prize in June 2016 “for his lifelong and pioneering innovations in energy efficiency resulting in immense reductions in energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions around the world.”


Born in 1926 in Birmingham, Alabama, Rosenfeld obtained his PhD in Physics at the University of Chicago in 1954 under the tutelage of legendary physicist Enrico Fermi. He was well prepared for a great career in physics. That is, until he experienced a life-changing epiphany in 1973.


One late night that year, during the darkest night of the oil crisis, Rosenfeld went to switch off the lights at the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab. It was then he noticed that there were no light switches—everything was hardwired in the building, which meant that the lights would stay on unless the circuit breakers were cut. Realizing that the culture and the system were designed to be inefficient, Rosenfeld began considering just how much energy could be saved from efficiency in everyday utilities. A new age in energy had begun.


“He has an amazingly important knack of looking at complicated multidisciplinary, multidimensional problem and figuring out what is the right question to ask,” says Ashok Gadgil, one of Rosenfeld’s many PhD students and good friends at Berkeley. Gadgil, like many of Rosenfeld’s students, calls him “Art.” Coincidentally, his method of “cutting to the quick” in energy problems is also known as an “art.”


The reframing of the question led to Rosenfeld’s foundation of the Center for Building Science at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and a series of improvement and inventions. Compact florescent lighting, new energy efficient refrigerators, building analysis programs; these are a few of the byproducts of the technologies and policies put forward by Rosenfeld.


The ACEEE (American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy) was founded in part by Rosenfeld in 1980. It supplies the data that policy makers use to craft energy-efficient policies. Over the course of his policy-career, Rosenfeld convinced the government in California to adopt energy standards for appliances and building codes, standards which would later be adopted throughout the US and the world.


A 2001 US National Academy of Sciences study showed that Prof. Rosenfeld’s initiatives and innovations have saved $30 billion. It also estimated that by 2030 such energy standards will have saved a total of $1.8 trillion and 7 billion tons of CO2 emissions – which equals the annual emissions of 1.5 billion cars.


John Holdren, former director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy for the White House, said of Rosenfeld: “Art had an enormous impact on U.S. energy policy starting in the early 1970s with his insights and quantitative analysis pointing out to the potential for increased end-use efficiency as the cheapest, cleanest and surest response to the nation’s energy challenges.”


Having seen the depression first hand; having inherited the practical economy of his parents; having laid a solid foundation in particle physics under the simple and direct mentorship of Fermi, Rosenfeld was uniquely equipped to tackle the complicated, multidisciplinary problems of the modern era. “There is no Law of Physics and no Law of Nature that prevents human society from achieving long term prosperity and sustainable development. However, our success or failure to do so rests entirely in the choices we make and actions we will take.” That is the Art of Energy Efficiency, and it could not have been better put.


The Tang Prize Foundation expresses its sincerest condolences to the family, friends, and colleagues of Art Rosenfeld. His contributions and his inspiration are not limited to his place or his time; they are his gift to the future world.


Watch the Tang Prize documentary on Art Rosenfeld at the link below:

And visit the memorial to Art Rosenfeld at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory website: