Scofield Replies to Orr’s Reply to Scofield’s Letter

To the Editors:

I would like to respond to issues raised by Professor Orr’s letter published in the Nov. 2 issue of the Review.
First, Professor Orr mentions the need to correct engineering and control logic mistakes. Such mistakes need to be addressed, but it would be incorrect to conclude that the inefficient building design is the fault of the engineers. The decision to heat the atrium and living machine with an electric rather than a gas boiler (or steam from the College heating plant), the decision to use 100% outside air, the extensive use of glazing, and the decision to incorporate an oversized, living machine were not made by the engineers, but rather by the design team which included Professor Orr, the architect, and others. Moreover, all of the engineering and energy modeling for the building were performed through the architect, part of the more than $1M paid to William McDonough and Partners for this project. Hence the architect is ultimately responsible for the energy projections and the engineering design.
Second, Professor Orr expresses an interest in peer-review before public dissemination of information. This seems to represent a last-minute conversion to the peer-review process. The architect and Dr. Orr have traveled world-wide describing this building’s design and projected energy performance, published numerous op-ed pieces, and provided information for dozens of newspaper and magazine articles, most, if not all of which describe a 1997 design which was never constructed, not the actual building. In the three years since the building design was finalized I do not know of a single, peer-reviewed article published by anyone associated with this project regarding the actual building design, its projected energy performance, or its actual performance. Dr. Orr’s new-found interest in the peer-review process seems to be driven more by his desire to delay and control the dissemination of energy-performance data than a desire for accuracy. If Dr. Orr has reason to believe that any data I have disseminated is inaccurate I challenge him to publicly identify the problem.
And third, Professor Orr says that building energy information, in an accurate context, will be available on a web site early next year. As a scientist I have always been concerned about accurate data — the phrase “accurate context” is new to me. We can get a clue as to what Professor Orr means by this phrase by looking at how he packaged energy performance data in his October 2 presentation at Hope College. A Grand Rapids reporter who attended his talk wrote that “[Dr. Orr] spearheaded an effort to design, fund and build a $7.4 million environmental studies center on his campus that actually produces 25 percent more energy than it uses.” How did this reporter draw such an incorrect conclusion regarding a building that has, on an annual basis, consumed 300-400% as much energy as the PV-array produced? Turns out that Professor Orr presented energy performance data for only three months, May, June, and July, for which he claimed the building exported 25% more energy than it used. He failed to mention that these spring/summer months are those for which the photovoltaic array has maximum output owing to the long daylight hours and the building has minimum energy consumption because no heat is required. The NREL data monitoring system has been in place since January, but Professor Orr chose not to present data for January – April for which the building consumed more than 500% the amount of energy exported by the PV array.
And finally, it is my understanding that the contract with NREL does not call for them to develop an energy-monitoring web site. The NREL team has assisted in installing a data-logging system and will be analyzing the data with regard to building performance. Any web site to present building energy data will be an Oberlin effort — the “accurate context” will be determined not by NREL, but by Environmental Studies faculty David Orr and John Petersen.
–John Scofield
Professor of physics

November 9
November 16

site designed and maintained by jon macdonald and ben alschuler :::