The energy efficiency guru gets his 15 minutes

How to avoid building new coal-fired power plants: Hint -- it's all about the Rosenfelds

By Andrew Leonard
Published March 9, 2010 11:51PM (EST)

Art Rosenfeld, the man most responsible for Callifornia's extraordinarily successful energy efficiency regulations, likes to talk about saving power in terms of "avoiding power plants." In honor of his achievements, a group of colleagues have now launched a formal movement to create a new unit of energy measurement -- the "Rosenfeld" -- equal to the amount of energy saved annually by avoiding the creation of one 500 megawatt coal-fired power plant, or about 3 billion kilowatts of electricity per year.

From the Environmental Research Letters: (Thanks to Berkeleyside for the tip.)

In this letter we propose standard characteristics for an avoided power plant that have physical meaning and intuitive plausibility, for use in back-of-the-envelope calculations and characterizing energy savings results. We also propose naming the annual energy savings of such a plant as a new unit in Art Rosenfeld's honor (the Rosenfeld) because Dr Rosenfeld continues to be the most prominent advocate of characterizing efficiency savings in terms of avoided power plants.

Dr Rosenfeld made a transition from particle physics to studying energy efficiency at the time of the first oil embargo. Over the past 35 years he has been at the forefront of efforts to improve the efficiency of energy use around the world and has devoted special care to making the results of complex energy analysis understandable to a lay audience. For years, Dr Rosenfeld has characterized oil savings in terms of 'Arctic Refuges saved' and electricity savings in terms of 'avoided power plants' to emphasize that supply and demand side policy options are fungible and that replacing power plants with more efficient energy technologies would be beneficial for consumers' electricity bills and for the environment.

Is the new "metric for electricity savings" measurement going to catch on? Energy efficiency is much in the news in recent days. President Obama pushed his Home Star Cash for Caulkers weatherization program in Georgia last week and there has been a slew of Congressional activity.

Let's look at one of the bills -- "Building Star," legislation introduced last Tuesday by Senators Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) Building Star's goal is to push energy-efficient renovations in commercial and multi-family residential buildings.

According to, "'Building Star' is expected to save building owners more than $3 billion on their energy bills annually by reducing enough peak electricity demand to avoid the need for thirty-three 300-megawatt power plants."

Let's see. 33 300 megawatt power plants is equivalent to just about 20 500 megawatt plants, which would come out to around 20 Rosenfelds.

That's right! This new legislation could save us 20 ROSENFELDS!

Hmmm. It's a nice gesture, and it does carry with it a certain touch of supreme geekiness, but I don't think it's really going to fly in the public sphere.

Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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