The art of energy efficiency: California’s 30-year track record

Whatever Arthur H. Rosenfeld decides to do with his time now that he has stepped down from the California Energy Commission, you can bet none of it will be wasted. As the godfather of energy efficiency, Art has dedicated himself to driving energy efficiency into the mainstream.

From 2000 through 2009, Art Rosenfeld served two consecutive five-year terms on the California Energy Commission (CEC). He was first appointed by Governor Gray Davis in 2000 and later reappointed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2005. But Art’s influence on the expansion of energy efficiency extends far beyond his work on the CEC. This week, a reception to honor Art was hosted by the UC Davis Energy Efficiency Center, the first-of-its kind academic center of excellence of which he was a founding supporter and a leading light. Friends and colleagues from across the country descended on the Robert and Margrit Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts to pay their tribute to Art’s contribution to the energy efficiency movement.

The company I represent, Chevron Energy Solutions (CES), owes Art a particular debt of gratitude. The work to establish energy efficiency standards for buildings did a lot to stimulate the growth of energy efficiency service providers like CES. There probably isn’t a project we deliver today that doesn’t somehow connect to the work Art has done. It’s not just energy service companies that owe him thanks, but our state does too.

Here’s just one example of how his work has touched everyone’s lives. The roots of the compact fluorescent light bulb, better known as the CFL and now the ubiquitous symbol of energy efficiency, can be traced to the work of Art Rosenfeld. Prior to his appointment to the CEC, Art led Luis Alvarez’s Nobel Prize-winning particle physics group at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and, from 1974 to 1994, formed and directed the Center for Building Science focusing on the new field of energy efficiency. The Center developed electronic ballasts for fluorescent lamps, which led to today’s compact fluorescent technology that delivers substantial savings in the lighting of commercial and public spaces and at homes across the country.

California’s groundbreaking energy efficiency policies and standards for appliances, equipment and building codes, together with lighter industry and a moderate climate, have helped drive the state’s efficiency goals. In fact, California’s per capita electricity use has remained flat for the past 30 years compared to the rest of the nation, which has increased its energy consumption by 40 percent. Recently named the nation’s most energy efficient state by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE), California has a distinguished 30-year track record of cost-effective energy efficiency standards that have saved California households and businesses $56 billion during that time.

For all these achievements, let’s not forget that when it comes to energy efficiency we have barely scratched the surface both in the state and as a nation. California still trails Japan and many European nations while a McKinsey study showed that we could reduce energy consumption in the United States by as much as 23 percent, which would deliver an estimated savings of $1.2 trillion to the economy. That’s like a second economic stimulus, just by working smarter. The study also estimated that a reduction in energy use on this scale would result in the abatement of 1.1 gigatons of greenhouse gas emissions annually – the equivalent of taking the entire U.S. fleet of passenger vehicles and light trucks off the roads by 2020.

Opportunities for energy efficiency abound, and faced with today’s economic climate and fiscal challenges, we can and must do more to integrate greater energy efficiency into every facet of our economy and society. One area that could deliver immediate returns is to accelerate programs that support energy efficiency projects in our public sector, such as K-12 education and universities. Energy costs are one of the largest discretionary budget items that our schools must deal with, and efficiency projects can typically deliver between 20 and 30 percent reductions in energy use.

“The cheapest energy is what you don’t use” is a phrase often attributed to Art. It doesn’t get any simpler – nor indeed more effective – than that, and it’s the defining hallmark of his thinking, which has helped improve the way we produce and consume energy. Some say that energy efficiency has an image problem, that it needs a Hollywood agent to compete for column inches and political speeches. Maybe we just need a few more people like Art.

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