When the Exploratorium science museum in San Francisco relocates next spring to a new $220-million waterside home, visitors no doubt will marvel first at the spectacular views of San Francisco Bay from the building's perch on Piers 15 and 17.

But even at second glance, museumgoers probably won't spot another important aspect of the new facility: a network of heating, cooling, water-use and other systems that the building team hopes will achieve its goal of net-zero energy use—a lofty target for a major museum.

Visitors surely won't see a third key component of the project—the challenging renovation and seismic retrofit of pier foundations, some of which were put in place in the early 20th century.

Including space both indoors and out, the new facility will be 330,000 sq ft. The Exploratorium’s current home at the landmark Palace of Fine Arts is about 100,000 sq ft.

The new building also could be the largest net-zero energy museum in the world, according to Nibbi Brothers, San Francisco, the project's general contractor.

Joe Olla, Nibbi Brothers director of business development and marketing, says the push toward enhanced energy efficiency was a team effort, but he gives most of the credit to museum officials, who view net-zero energy consumption as a kind of holy grail.

"The Exploratorium [officials] spent a lot of time ensuring that this happened," Olla says. "They feel they can probably do LEED Platinum, but, candidly, they are much more interested in net-zero energy than anything. They feel providing a net-zero building of this magnitude is really the goal."

Marc L'Italien, principal of project architect EHDD, San Francisco, says, "We've targeted the project for LEED-Gold certification, and we're actually going to get close to Platinum." L'Italien also agrees that net-zero energy consumption is the true aim.

"The goal is to make the building as energy efficient as possible to start, and then to supplement energy on site to equal, if not exceed, the amount consumed," L'Italien says. "A lot of net-zero buildings are able to do that where they use a neighboring site for power generation. We're actually able to use our site and building for all power generation."

The source will be a rooftop photovoltaic system comprising more than 5,800 panels that will produce more than 1.26 MW of peak AC power per year. L'Italien says the output would be enough to power more than 1,000 homes annually.