Bright idea

PUBLISHED : Monday, 27 November, 2000, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 27 November, 2000, 12:00am


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The Geotechnical Engineering Office's plan to install solar panels on slopes to harness energy to power street lights is an example of how lateral thinking can kill two birds with one stone.

Over the past few years, the indiscriminate 'shotcreting' of many slopes as a means of preventing mudslips and landslides has inadvertently created many eyesores. While such work has slowed down because of public criticism, it is difficult to undo the damage done to many hillsides formerly covered by greenery. Hopefully, those ugly skins of concrete may now be turned into aesthetically appealing murals that serve a dual purpose - beautifying the slopes and tapping an environmentally friendly source of energy.

But if the project is to be a real success, it seems the involvement of artists is imperative. The greatest nightmare would be for the layers of concrete to be replaced by bland sheets of metal. If the project team does not now have an artist, one or more should be co-opted. After all, the exercise is about installing art in public spaces. It is no less important than constructing a building on a prime site.

Scientists have long tried to tap the huge amounts of energy from the sun and make it available at the appropriate time and form for human consumption. Although several solar power plants are in operation in California, they cannot yet compete with conventional power plants on an economic basis. But affordable solar power kits providing hot water and air-conditioning to homes and buildings are readily available.

Located in the tropics, Hong Kong is ideally suited to harness the power of the sun, which shines three-quarters of the year. Although it is doubtful if solar panels installed on rooftops could ever meet all the energy needs of multi-storey buildings, the SAR should promote every affordable use of solar power, both on economic and conservation grounds.

This imaginative plan is expected to help the Government save tens of millions of dollars a year in power bills for street lights. But it is not just dollars and cents that count. Less consumption of electricity generated by conventional power plants will also mean fewer greenhouse emissions.