Job opportunities in the pipeline

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 24 November, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 24 November, 2007, 12:00am

As Hong Kong grapples with severe air pollution, gas is becoming an important cleaner source of energy.

It is playing a crucial role in Hong Kong's ever-growing economy and people's lives. As a result, there is now a demand for gas engineers who can work with the latest technology.

Ho Kwong-wai, former chairman of the gas discipline advisory panel and gas and energy division of the Hong Kong Institution of Engineers (HKIE), said there were three main areas of work in the gas engineering profession, namely gas production-transmission, distribution and storage systems and gas utilisation.

Mr Ho, who is the director of the government's Electrical and Mechanical Services Department, said gas engineers played a vital role in building Hong Kong's infrastructure by maintaining and extending the gas network and ensuring enough gas was available to produce electricity.

Gas engineers are also heavily involved in the enormous West-to-East pipeline project that will bring liquefied natural gas from the mainland to Hong Kong to meet the growing demand.

The Hong Kong and China Gas Company, better known as Towngas, distributes natural gas to more than 1.5 million customers throughout Hong Kong.

The company has more than 3,000 kilometres of pipeline and almost 2,000 employees. Today, natural gas and liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) are the main types of fuel used for commercial, domestic and industrial purposes, with more than 2.3 million consumers. LPG is also used by more than 20,000 taxis and light buses.

Mr Ho said as the industry continued to evolve, Hong Kong gas engineers utilised technology that avoided the use of trenches for gas mains. 'The latest technology for distributing gas provides many benefits, such as reducing the need for excavation and open trench work on roads, therefore minimising the impact on the environment, shortening construction time and reducing the impact on traffic congestion.'

He also said gas was a cleaner alternative to other fuels and, coupled with the high efficiency of gas equipment, this meant that using it could help reduce air pollution.

Mr Ho said: 'Gas has also made a difference in the development of gas-fired desiccant dehumidifiers and high efficiency gas condensing boilers to conserve energy.' For example, a gas-fired desiccant dehumidifier has brought a new lease of life to the hydropool at the United Christian Hospital.

Previously designed with a conventional style air conditioning system, the indoor climate was causing discomfort to patients and staff, and caused expensive equipment to rust. Since its retrofit with a gas-fired dehumidifier, the pool area now maintains a comfortable level of humidity while also achieving cost savings.

Dennis Leung Yiu-cheong, committee member of the HKIE's gas and energy division, said one of the most important roles of a gas engineer was risk assessment and safety management.

'Unlike most other areas of engineering, gas engineers need to be familiar with chemistry and thermal dynamics,' said Dr Leung, who is also associate professor of the Department of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Hong Kong.

'Safety involving storage, maintenance, supply and delivery of gas is of paramount importance in a place such as Hong Kong where you have high-density living and such a high level of gas utilisation.'

Looking ahead, Dr Leung said a career in the gas industry looked promising. 'Hong Kong's gas engineers are trained to international levels, which means they are in high demand to work on utilisation development projects in Hong Kong and the mainland, especially in the Pearl River Delta region.'

However, he warned that gas engineers need to remain responsive to new opportunities and inspire others in the gas industry by linking different skills and embracing innovation.

To support the gas engineering sector, the HKIE oversees and administers the Graduate Scheme 'A' Training, which aims to help university graduates become professional engineers and corporate members of the institution. The HKIE also administers formal training schemes for developing holders of higher diplomas and higher certificate holders towards becoming engineering technologists and associate HKIE members.

In addition, the HKIE facilitates continuing professional development programmes for practitioners so they can systematically upgrade and broaden skills.

This article is part of a series on engineering trends and developments, produced in association with the HKIE. It is published on the last Saturday of every month.