Op-Ed: The Truth about Y2E2

Opinion by and
Feb. 3, 2010, 12:20 a.m.

Let’s get one thing straight: the Yang and Yamazaki Environment and Energy (Y2E2) building is doing fine. The results from its first year are in, and Y2E2 building uses 42% less energy than similar buildings built to code, just as planned. Rumors that Y2E2 is performing poorly are making their way across campus, and some are even claiming that it uses more resources than a conventional building of the same size.

These rumors were fueled by a Stanford Review article by Alex Katz that misconstrues and obscures the facts about Y2E2. His argument relies exclusively on a recent report published by Stanford’s Center for Integrated Facility Engineering (CIFE). Written by a group of graduate students who admit to having no previous knowledge about building modeling, the report is based on data from faulty sub-meters in Y2E2 and was never peer-reviewed by the building’s design team or Stanford’s Sustainability & Energy Management Department.

While researching the article, entitled “Y2E2 Fails to Meet Efficiency Expectations,” Katz was informed by staff in the Department of Sustainability and Energy Management that, based on measured consumption history, Y2E2 was performing just as expected. It is unclear exactly whose efficiency expectations Katz thinks failed, as they are certainly not the efficiency expectations of the university, contractor, or energy modeler, who all expected the building to use 40% less energy than a conventional building of the same size, which it has.

Katz claims that Y2E2 is using 65% more energy than its “original” specifications, where “original” refers to very early models created to estimate building cost effectiveness. Created before construction, those models were not used to predict actual building consumption. The model Y2E2 performance is actually compared against by the university is called the “as built” model, which includes Coupa Caf?, a longer occupancy schedule, an extensive data center, and a better understanding of research equipments and plugloads. Comparing the building’s current energy performance to this early model would be like comparing your home’s actual energy use to a model of your home with no appliances or electronics in it – a model can’t be expected to predict your home’s energy use if it doesn’t accurately account for what’s in your home. Based on an accurate “as built” model of Y2E2 energy use, the building is performing just as expected, far better than buildings of similar size.

Following his flawed critique of this green building on campus, Katz launches an equally flawed attack on the green building industry, giving examples of buildings across the world that have not performed as expected. While the industry is still in its infancy, there is no exclusive link between energy efficient buildings and “exceedence” models. Variation in building performance is common across all building types. If Stanford is not a place for testing innovate new technologies, where is? For each example of a building that Katz gives of a building that did not perform quite as expected, there are many examples of those that did, or even performed above expectations. Our own Carnegie Global Ecology Center, the Sun Field Station at Jasper Ridge, and yes, even Y2E2, are shining examples of those that have succeeded.

Stanford will continue to make our campus more sustainable with green new construction practices and by optimizing energy performance in existing buildings. Flawed attempts to find fault in doing good for the environment -and our budget- will not stop us. The new GSB campus will be certified LEED Platinum, joining the ranks of those buildings that have been deemed the greenest in the country. Katz and the Review can try to find fault in that.

Meanwhile, we’ll being saving the planet.

Heather Benz ’10

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