About Lewis Centers Use of Energy
By my count, the Review has published 25 articles about the Adam
Joseph Lewis Center since the project gathered momentum in 1996.
Ironically, only four of these articles have appeared since the
building was completed in January 2000. Apparently the abstract
ideas were more newsworthy than the building itself. The article
Visiting Scientists Evaluate A. J. Lewis Center by Sam
Schreiber, which appeared in the Oct. 5 issue, breaks a year of
silence on the building and is the first article to address building
performance. The article was not worth the wait.
Schreiber gets off on the wrong foot when he calls the outside visitors,
NREL scientists. The visitors consist of three individuals,
one a PhD engineer from NREL, another a U. Colorado at Boulder engineering
graduate student and the third an independent contractor (unknown
credentials). It is not my intention to disparage the teams
credentials but merely to point out that none is a scientist and
only one is an employee of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.
Moreover, given the title of the article, it is surprising that
Schreiber appears not to have interviewed any of the outside visitors.
Apparently his information is based entirely on interviews with
Environmental Studies Professors David Orr and John Petersen and
a recent OC graduate, Audra Abt.
Rather than get bogged down addressing all the factual errors in
the article let me just say that improvements in HVAC control software
might result in 20-30 percent energy savings, but this will not
have significant impact on the building energy consumption which
is 300 percent the original target figure. The bulk of the energy
consumption cannot be addressed without major redesign and renovation
of the HVAC system.
such renovation is to replace the notorious electric boiler that
now provides about 50% of the buildings heat. Though Schreiber
classifies it as an experimental technology, electric boilers and
heaters have been understood for nearly a century. Their inclusion
in a green building is simply indefensible. The 500 kW building
transformer made necessary by this and other electric heaters is
the same size as that which serves the Ames department store south
of Oberlin (77,000 sq. ft, more than 5X the size of the AJLC). The
buildings extensive use of electric heat calls into question
the competence of anyone who participated in its design.
I was struck by John Petersens use of the Einstein quotation,
If we knew what we were doing, it wouldnt be called
He appears to be suggesting the converse.
If so, there is plenty of evidence that the designers of the AJLC
are engaged in world-class research. Where, I wonder, will they
publish their recent discoveries about electric heat?
goes on to indicate that there are problems with the Living Machine
which could be solved if only students would make more use of the
restrooms. The Living Machine was designed to process 2,000 gallons
of sewage daily, corresponding to one toilet flush every minute,
24 hours a day, 365 days per year. An uninformed observer might
conclude that the system was oversized and is inappropriate for
the building. But no Schreiber explains that the problem
is student education we just need to find ways to get them
to deposit more waste in the building. Surely this calls for a new
student organization to work closely with dining services to solve
this pressing problem. Or better yet, is there an opportunity here
to collaborate with local merchants to bring tourists to Oberlin
to buy a sweatshirt and watch the organic processing of their own
And finally, Schreiber quotes Orr as saying that, from the beginning,
they assumed it would take 10 years to break even and that they
are ahead of schedule. This statement is truly incredible. As recently
as April 2000, an article appearing in Environmental Design and
Construction magazine quotes Orr as saying, We believe that
right off the bat, the building will generate more power than it
will use. President Dye, in her 1997 address to the Cleveland
City Club said, They have designed and are now preparing to
build a structure that discharges no waste water, generates more
electricity than it uses... You are all invited to come out and
see it in about a year and a half. Did she mean to say 11
years? How is the average person to reconcile Orrs latest
statement with quotations published in dozens of newspaper and magazine
articles prior to 2001?
Professor of physics