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Art Rosenfeld: The Genius of Energy Efficiency

Posted by at 9:03 PM, 02/22/2010

By Uma Subramaniam, Marketing Chair, Cleantech Open

Art Rosenfeld at Berkeley

I had the privilege of chatting with Art Rosenfeld a few days ago. Now, I don't say this lightly. It truly was a privilege, and I have no qualms in boasting about it to all who care to listen. And, believe me, it is gratifying to see the awe-struck expressions.

Being somewhat new to the world of clean and green, I did not know who Art Rosenfeld was. We were at a meeting to discuss the Cleantech Open's National Launch, and somebody said that we were very fortunate to have secured Art as a speaker. "Who's that?" I asked. Well, I think most of the eyebrows around the table disappeared into their respective hairlines (almost). Now for those of you who don't know, Art is a Legend. A pioneer in the energy conservation movement, he has been one of California's Energy Commissioners since 2000 and is famously credited with the Rosenfeld Effect.

While waiting for an introduction to Art, I poked around the Web, trying to understand his background and personality. Dubbed the "godfather of energy efficiency," Art is an incredible driving force. I was humbled and moved to learn that the world and California, in particular, owe so much to Art's untiring efforts to save energy. I won't go into the details, but I encourage you to click on many of the links in this blog and applaud Art's contributions.

Art has a strikingly simple message when it comes to saving energy. Renewables are half the story-they cost money. Efficiency is the other half of the story-it saves you money. It's as simple as painting your roofs white if you live in a warm climate. Take the cool folks of Bermuda or Santorini, Greece. Amazingly beautiful places, where the roofs are flat and painted white.

That's really smart, because having a white roof delays global warming-it doesn't reflect the sunlight and consequently heat the earth. In addition, if you have air-conditioning, then having a white roof saves 10-20% of your A/C costs. Best of all, a white roof doesn't cost anymore than a dark roof. Yet again taking the lead, since 2005, California has required all flat roofs (mostly commercial and industrial) must be white. I can think of many areas in the U.S. where white roofs would make a world of difference-literally. For the past week, I've been looking at roofs with a new eye, and wondering why on earth we didn't go for flat white roofs a long time ago.

Art is big believer in long-term research. He recognizes that going from research to commercialization is a long and tedious process. But, he says, there is a lot of money available from DOE and ARPA research programs, and he encourages early stage ventures to go after these sources. If you do get funding from these programs, you have the benefit of guidance from professional managers who know the field very well. Now, I think that's terrific advice for Cleantech Open's community of entrepreneurs.

"So, you're speaking at our National Launch," I said. "What do you have to say to our contestants and alumni?"

"Work on things which are relatively simple. If you're going to solve a problem, first do it with efficiency, and then move on to supply-side development."

Art gave a terrific example of a housing builder in Sacramento who had to bring down the cooling load by 20%. So, the builder resorted to energy efficient improvements like windows, insulation, meters, etc., and spent around $3,000 per home for a 40% improvement. To get an additional 40% improvement, the builder resorted to photovoltaics, which before incentives cost around $20,000. You get the picture? Energy efficiency is just that-efficient.

Do you know what I'm really pleased about? This "gentle giant" is receiving special recognition at the National Launch on February 26 - please attend if you can to hear more from Art himself.

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