Boosting buildings' energy efficiency a shrewd investment for Hong Kong

Anna Beech says Hong Kong urgently needs to make its buildings more energy efficient. Luckily, we have just about everything we need for the task

PUBLISHED : Friday, 28 December, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 28 December, 2012, 3:28am

Improving the energy efficiency of Hong Kong buildings is one of the best investments we can make - right now - given our technical know-how, the large green-buildings community in the city and the availability of examples from abroad.

No doubt the task is daunting, given the density of buildings here. The lack of transparency in measurements, differing interests of stakeholders, absence of government incentives and alternative funding methods for building owners compound that challenge. Nevertheless, it is essential if the city is to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions and improve the quality of life for its citizens.

Unlike many urban centres where energy demand is generated by industrial manufacturing, buildings account for 90 per cent of the energy used in Hong Kong. Since the creation of energy-efficient buildings is deemed to be the least costly way for cities to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, this offers a great opportunity for the city to truly create a low-carbon Hong Kong.

It will also increase the city's ability to be self-sufficient, as a large portion of the energy used to power the city is generated on the mainland.

Secretary for Environment Wong Kam-sing has acknowledged the need for action in this area, and said the government would conduct energy audits in 120 buildings over the next three years. However, is this plan of action aggressive enough to inspire real change? Examples from other cities should spur the government to take bolder steps.

Recently, Paul Rode, of Johnsons Controls in New York, visited Hong Kong to share his insights into what is the most important area of building energy efficiency - making the world's current building stock more efficient. Rode was the project manager of the team responsible for retrofitting the Empire State Building.

Measures chosen for this iconic building included insulation; "day lighting", which allows the admission of natural lighting to reduce the need for electric lighting; demand-controlled ventilation, whereby ventilation is delivered where necessary and not automatically; and installing a newer, more efficient chiller plant. These reduced energy use by 38 per cent, a saving of 105,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide over the next 15 years.

All this was achieved in a building that is a national treasure, a potentially high risk project.

To retrofit Hong Kong's buildings, there needs to be a combination of regulation, funding and government leadership. Melbourne, Australia, not only has stringent energy efficiency regulations for buildings and appliances, but has also established an independent trust worth A$6.4 million (HK$51 million) to provide loans for sustainable retrofits. The city aims to retrofit two-thirds of its commercial office building stock to achieve a 38 per cent reduction in energy use.

Hong Kong is aiming for a carbon intensity reduction target of between 50 per cent and 60 per cent by 2020. Improving the city's buildings would be a huge achievement. Hong Kong - its government, people and businesses - should look to others as well as utilise the green-building talent available in Hong Kong, and put this city on a path to sustainability and increased prosperity.

Anna Beech is senior project manager at Civic Exchange