Compulsory energy codes help clear the air

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 29 December, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 29 December, 2007, 12:00am

The link between buildings and air pollution is not readily apparent. You cannot see it by looking at a building, as you can by looking at vehicles with smoky engine exhausts, or easily apportion blame as you can to emissions from coal-burning power stations. But these emissions reflect the link. Government figures show that buildings account for up to 89 per cent of Hong Kong's total energy consumption. Energy efficient buildings that consume less power therefore help combat pollution by power stations.

That is not a revelation. It has long been a pet subject of environmental groups, and Hong Kong has had building standards for higher energy efficiency for nearly 10 years. As we report today, however, compliance is voluntary and very patchy. As a result, the government feels compelled to issue mandatory codes that would apply to new commercial buildings, public space in new residential and industrial buildings, and renovations of existing buildings covering more than half the public space and key installations.

The proposal has been released for public consultation. It is estimated that extra building costs of up to 5 per cent to ensure air conditioning, lifts and escalators, lighting and electrical installations comply with the codes would be recovered within six years through smaller energy bills, which would then represent savings. That is a proposition for bringing a modern city up to the world's best practice that seems hard to reject.

With the cost-benefit argument here, the consultation should be little more than a formality. That should clear the way for the government to turn its mind to older buildings that have been exempted from the codes because space or design constraints would make compliance onerous. Given that they are more likely to be energy inefficient, incentives should be considered where compliance with the codes would make a big difference.

Hong Kong has also been notorious for being too brightly lit at night and for its chilling shopping malls. If mandatory building codes could push us to cut wasteful lighting and turn down freezing air conditioning, so much the better.