Green Machine

Thank you for publishing Professor Scofield's history of the Lewis Center's mechanical design (Summer 2002). I have used it to illustrate for several colleagues how far the engineering profession has to go to make advanced-design green buildings work to their full potential. If only engineering were so elegant as physics! But two decades of construction management has taught me that MEP (mechanical-electrical-plumbing) design is in large part a practice of expedience and compromise, revising and re-revising equipment to meet constraints of space, time, budget, and client requests. Not to mention various pressures to use the tried-and-true in the bowels even of an architect's dream. The Oberlin community should not feel that the Lewis Center is unique or unusually flawed in this respect; or that the building does not perform up to the original, conceptual performance estimates. Flawed energy analysis by professionals is all too common. Describing the absurdities that routinely crop up would make this letter far too long. Professor Scofield obviously has the perspective and material to introduce students to rigorous building energy analysis and I sincerely hope that he is doing so. It is a highly marketable skill and an important opportunity for practical applied physics. Drawing the thermodynamic system boundary is at the heart of much energy analysis. How it is drawn affects the problem we see. Once we see that the boundary needs to go out to the town of Oberlin's electric generating plant (about a mile down South Professor, not far past Old Barrows), why not consider recovering the waste heat there for the campus system. Such a co-generation arrangement, a proven technology, increases electric process efficiency from 35% to over 70%. The waste heat generated steam would displace steam from the coal-fired boilers of the campus system. The Oberlin community as a whole would benefit, along with acid rain damaged lakes in the Adirondacks and the global atmosphere. Reliance on coal is not just the Lewis Center's dirty little secret.
Michael Bobker '73
Brooklyn, New York

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