Power hungry

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 01 March, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 01 March, 2012, 12:00am


You may recall that former chief secretary Henry Tang Ying-yen assured lawmakers at a Legislative Council meeting in March 2009 that the Tamar government facilities would be one of the greenest buildings in Hong Kong.

But, last month, the government disclosed high levels of electricity consumption at the new Legco complex, in response to questions raised by legislator Audrey Eu Yuet-mee. This should be of great concern to our government and taxpayers.

The average monthly power bill was HK$1.46million for the first two months of operation late last year, an increase of 8.8 times compared to the HK$165,240 for the old Legco offices during the same period in 2010.

A fairer measure would be to compare the electricity consumption per square metre of operational floor space for the two premises. On average, a kilowatt-hour of electricity costs HK$1. Thus, based on the bills, we estimate that the new complex consumes 970 kWh of power per square metre per year, whereas the old building consumed 220 kWh per square metre per year - an increase of 4.4 times. According to the Council for Sustainable Development, government offices consume an average of about 290 kWh per square metre per year. So, why is the new complex's electricity consumption so much higher than the average?

Although the higher rate could be due to the final refurbishment work carried out during that period, the government should seek a thorough investigation. It would be interesting to find out whether the Tamar offices meets the basic, low standards for energy efficiency required by the Mandatory Building Energy Codes.

The government should also disclose the energy consumption data of the Tamar government offices, not just the Legco building.

The public expects the government to lead in the move towards a low-carbon city. Its HK$5.5 billion headquarters (together with the Legco building) should be an example to others. The government should let us know how much energy each of the green features incorporated into the complex has saved, so we will know whether they really work, or if they were included merely for decoration.

When Friends of the Earth (HK) moved to its new office in late 2009, we set out to create an energy-efficient and low-carbon office. This helps keep utility bills down.

The office features seven individual zones for lighting and air conditioning, so zones can be switched off when not required. We also chose an office with windows that we can open to make full use of natural ventilation. Further, we will be installing a blind that cuts about 80 per cent of the solar heat while still allowing in natural light.

These measures have helped us achieve a 48per cent improvement in electricity consumption per unit area. In fact, total consumption has risen by only 3.5per cent even though we have double the area and more staff.

This shows that doubling the office space doesn't have to mean double the electricity consumption, as long as truly green designs are integrated at the start and energy-saving practices are implemented by all staff.

Edwin Lau Che-feng is director of general affairs at Friends of the Earth (HK)