‘A living goal’: San Francisco’s Exploratorium museum achieves its net-zero energy goal

The Exploratorium museum has announced this week that it had reached a net-zero energy goal, which they said makes it the largest museum to do so in the United States. 

Sitting along Pier 15 in San Francisco, the museum, whose original home was at the Palace of Fine Arts, has sought to be energy sustainable since its 2013 relocation. 

The reduction of energy usage amounts to the equivalent of the annual emissions of 3,268 passenger cars or enough electricity to power 286 homes over the past decade, the museum said. 

The museum also said that the Exploratorium generates as much, if not more, energy than it uses on an annual basis at its 220,000-square foot headquarters.

“This achievement is a reminder that net zero energy is a living goal,” said Brad Jacobson, a principal partner at EHDD, a San Francisco architecture firm that designed the Exploratorium.

The Exploratorium’s movement towards being energy efficient led to it receiving an LEED Platinum certification in 2014 by the U.S. Green Building Council, a nonprofit committed to promoting sustainability in building designs. This made it the largest museum and sixth San Francisco project at the time have this platinum certification.

“This achievement is a reminder that net zero energy is a living goal.”

Brad Jacobson, principal partner at EHDD

Highlighted aspects of the museum’s strategy included its use of a 1.3-megawatt SunPower solar power system, with 5,874 high-efficiency solar panels on its rooftop which offset its electricity demands, as well as a heating and cooling system that the museum says saves two million gallons of potable water a year. Moreover, the museum pointed to the strategic usage of daylight which reduces the need for electric lighting and an upgraded ventilation system that uses natural convection to move air.

Laura Zander, the Exploratorium’s Chief Financial and Operating Officer, said she is looking forward to visitors seeing the museum’s sustainability efforts in person. 

Zander also mentioned that even details such as the colors of the walls reflect the sustainability choices that the museum has made over the years. The museum’s director of communications explained how. 

“Lighter colored paints and those with a high ‘LRV’ (light reflectance value) means you need less artificial (electrical) light to achieve the same amount of illumination and helps ‘bounce’ borrowed daylight into spaces better,” said Janny Hu. 

“The next time you’re at the Exploratorium … look up at the big vents,” said Zander. “Walk by our Bay Water room and see how we’re pumping water and using that to heat and cool the 

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