When octogenarian Arthur H. Rosenfeld vacates his utilitarian office at the California Energy Commission this week, one of his final tasks might seem of little consequence: He’ll turn off the lights.
But that simple act — some would say compulsion — has transformed California into a world leader in energy efficiency.
California homes are loaded with personal computers, widescreen TVs, iPods, PlayStations, air conditioners, massive refrigerators, hot tubs and swimming pool pumps. Despite that, Golden State residents today use about the same amount of electricity per capita that they did 30 years ago.
For that, they can largely thank Rosenfeld, a slight, bespectacled nuclear physicist fueled by a passion to wring the most out of every kilowatt. Polite and affable, with a knack for making science understandable to people who couldn’t screw in a lightbulb, Rosenfeld, starting in the 1970s, provided California energy regulators the data they needed to enact some of the toughest efficiency standards in the world.