04/10/2013 08:13 pm ET | Updated Jun 10, 2013

What's Biggest Exhibit at New SF Exploratorium?

What's the biggest and most impactful exhibit at the new San Francisco Exploratorium, opening April 17?

Get this: It's not the 330-year-old Douglas fir tree, sliced open to reveal stunning time markers, or the 20-foot-tall "Tinkerer's Clock," powered by windshield wiper motors.

No. Some argue it's the entire Exploratorium structure itself, an audacious experiment in green building that aims to create the world's largest "net-zero" energy museum.

What's "net-zero," you ask? Simple, it's a building that creates as much energy as it consumes.

How it works

Peter Rumsey, CTO at Integral Group, led the design of the building's net-zero components and explains how it all works in this Fresh Dialogues video.

The Exploratorium's net-zero energy features include:

Approx. 6,000 high efficiency solar panels

A complex heating/cooling system that brings in 74,000 gallons of water per hour from San Francisco Bay to regulate the building's temperature via miles of floor-embedded pipes

A rainwater catchment used for flushing toilets

Rumsey may be an enthusiastic advocate for green building, but what gets him most excited is the idea that the San Francisco Exploratorium will inspire kids to think net-zero is the way of the future.

"They're going to say, 'Wow, that's one of the things we can do to solve this whole big climate change problem," says Rumsey. "We can design and build buildings that make their own energy and don't create a carbon problem."

"As kids grow up and become leaders in society, they'll be the ones saying, 'we should just do that zero energy thing. I saw it when I was a kid... it was no big deal.'"

Despite much talk about the 'state of the art' green building features, Rumsey says, "There's nothing cutting edge about the building...we've taken things that are 'off the shelf' and applied them in creative and innovative ways. We call it 'state of the shelf'."

Find out more about the Exploratorium and other net-zero buildings around the world; and see photos at Fresh Dialogues

Cross posted with Fresh Dialogues interview series.