Posted on October 24, 2013

VIDEO: PG&E Helps New Exploratorium Become Energy Efficient, Sponsors Field Trips

By Matt Nauman

SAN FRANCISCO – Long before the emphasis on math and science education became a national priority, the Exploratorium was teaching kids that science can be fun.

The venerable institution moved into a new home this year on San Francisco’s Embarcadero Waterfront. The new facility has even more hands-on exhibits that help children and adults learn how things work.

Thousands of solar panels help the Exploratorium become a zero-net energy facility. (Photos by James Green.)

One of the neat things about the new Exploratorium is that the building itself is a learning tool. The goal of the Exploratorium is to be the largest net-zero-energy museum in the nation. And thanks to a massive solar system and other features, that goal is being realized.

PG&E helped to make that happen. A team of PG&E employees from several departments worked with the Exploratorium to help it achieve its zero-net energy goal.

“When the Exploratorium made the decision to leave the Palace of Fine Arts and move down here to Piers 15 and 17, we knew that this was an opportunity to do things to position us for the future,” said Ken Finn, an education program specialist at the museum and a long-time employee. “In thinking about the future, one needs to think about sustainability. Especially as a non-profit, we need to keep ourselves viable into the future and big part of that is the energy picture.”

Currents got an insider’s tour of the Exploratorium recently and it became obvious that innovative ideas were to be found around every corner and behind every door.

Visitors can observe the Bay water system that cools the building using water from the San Francisco Bay.

The Bay water heating and cooling system is a great example. Since the Exploratorium sits right on the San Francisco Bay, it made a lot of sense to use the water to help cool the building. The process is fascinating and complex as more than 70,000 gallons of water are recirculated every hour. And 2 million gallons of water will be saved every year as they won’t be needed in evaporative cooling towers.

“Most mechanical systems are really behind the scenes in most buildings,” said Jesse MacQuidey, the Exploratorium’s senior building operations technician. “Here, we tried to expose that to show how everything operates.”

The solar roof provides spectacular views of San Francisco’s skyline and the bay and it generates lots of clean energy. How much? Well, nearly 5,900 Sunpower solar panels generate 1.3 megawatts of power. That will help offset more than 33,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions over the next 30 years. The system provides enough energy to power 1,000 homes and is the equivalent of removing 5,900 cars from the road.

As the building was being designed, the Exploratorium staff reached out to PG&E to get some energy efficient building ideas from PG&E’s Pacific Energy Center. That’s where architects and builders can learn about lighting, climate control devices and other green building ideas.

Generations of children from Northern and Central California have had fun learning at the Exploratorium.

PG&E was one of the sponsors of the Exploratorium grand-opening festivities. The utility also is funding field trips for schools that otherwise wouldn’t have the money to bring their students to the Exploratorium. (Click here to read a Currents story on the field-trip program.)

“We’re an engineering-based company,” said Wendy Fukamaki, PG&E’s community sponsorships and programs manager. “We have a vested interest in supporting opportunities that inspire and open the minds of young people            to explore careers in science, math and technology.”

For its energy-efficient construction efforts, the Exploratorium received an incentive for nearly $317,000. And it’s saving more than 772,000 kilowatt hours of electricity and more than 15,000 therms of gas. And for an institution that likes math, those are good numbers indeed.

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"PG&E" refers to Pacific Gas and Electric Company, a subsidiary of PG&E Corporation.
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