With the appointment of Steve Chu as the Secretary of Energy, it becomes official: Berkeley is the world capital of efficiency. Chu, the director of Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, has been one of the leading advocates of trying to curb fuel consumption through things like designing buildings better for their environment. Chu follows in the footsteps of Art Rosenfeld, who taught at the University of California and worked at the lab for decades. A physicist (Enrico Fermi's last grad student), Rosenfeld convinced the state of California to past stringent energy efficiency laws and appliance standards in the 1970s. Since then, electricity consumption in California has stayed roughly flat in per capita terms: It has doubled elsewhere in the country. From 1974 to 1994, Rosenfeld directed the Center for Building Science. He is now with the California Energy Commission. Other notable scientists working on energy efficiency in Berkeley include Arun Majumdar, the Almy and Agnes Maynard professor of mechanical engineering, and Steve Selkowitz, who now runs the Center for Building Science.

We waste a lot of power in the U.S., by the way. The U.S. consumes about 100 quads of energy a year, Manjumar told me recently. A quad is a quadrillion BTUs. A BTU is equivalent to the energy produced by a match.

"Of the 100 quads, about 55 to 60 go into waste heat," he said. "Fifty or 60 percent of the energy is wasted as heat."

The city's image in the popular imagination won't likely change. And effciency is pretty undtramatic. Don't expect someone to blurt out "You've got to throw yourselves on the gears of the machine and demand R 9 windows at an economical price" in the middle of Sproul Plaza any day soon. But the history and work taking place in the East Bay could have a pretty big impact.