It could be argued that energy use and associated pollution, including the gases most responsible for climate change, is the central environmental problem of our time. With this in mind, the AJLC was conceived as a building that would minimize energy use and meet much of its own power needs through passive solar heating and ventilation, natural and high efficiency electric lighting, and an array of photovoltaic cells installed on the roof of the building.


The National Renewable Energy Lab  played a key role in characterizing the initial energy performance of the AJLC. Gross direct energy consumption in the AJLC between March, 2001 and March, 2002 was 30,000 British Thermal Units (BTUs) per square foot. At the time this represented 39 percent of the national average reported for educational buildings, 36 percent of the consumption for nine other Oberlin buildings (data from a 2000 study), and just slightly lower than those values reported for Oakes Hall in Vermont Law School, which at that time was often cited as a standard for energy-efficient buildings at similar latitudes. Adding solar electric production to the roof of the building in 2001 lowered the net energy consumption of the AJLC to 14,000 BTUs per square foot, which amounted to 41 percent of Vermont Law School and 17 percent of the average for Oberlin buildings.

A “full life-cycle assessment” considers the energy embodied in the production, transportation, use and eventual disposal of materials and technologies incorporated into a building. The designers of the AJLC sought to minimize this embodied consumption by prioritizing local and energy efficient materials in its construction.

Of particular note is the effect of natural lighting and high efficiency fixtures on energy performance. In spite of nighttime classes and numerous dinner events held at the center, early studies revealed that the AJLC consumed only 28% of the lighting energy reported for typical educational buildings and 22% of that consumed by Oberlin academic buildings. The majority of energy (55%) consumed in the AJLC during this time period was used for the heating, ventilation and air conditioning system. However, shifting heating loads from a boiler to heat pumps achieved a 50% decrease in heating energy in March 2002 relative to March 2001 (calculated differences in energy requirements were normalized for temperature differences).

The early performance of the Adam Joseph Lewis Center is summarized in this paper .