Hong Kong is on the brink of getting its first generation of solar-powered urban buildings. Three buildings incorporating electricity-generating panels are due to be built by the end of 2003. However, a solar power researcher said Hong Kong had been backward in adopting alternative energy sources. The buildings' panels will generate only a portion of the electricity used by occupants but will reduce power bills and help cut the emission of greenhouse gases. The planned buildings are: A 29-storey commercial tower at 1 Peking Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, due to be completed next year; The Hong Kong Science Park in Tai Po, the first phase of which is due to open next year; A primary school on Ma Wan Island, due for completion in 2003. Dr Josie Close, the co-ordinator of a University of Hong Kong research team for a programme to put solar power in schools, said that agreements with power companies which gave them geographic monopolies over power distribution had been a major barrier to the use of solar power. The agreements run out in 2008. Dr Close called on the Government to encourage reluctant utility companies to allow solar power systems to feed into the main power grid. 'They [utilities] are the ones who are dragging their feet. The Government has to provide the incentives to make the utilities do it,' she said, suggesting tax incentives. A spokeswoman for Hong Kong Electric said the company did not allow alternative energy sources to connect to its grid, citing security of supply as one reason. However, at a recent Hong Kong Institute of Architects seminar, Richard Entwistle of the CLP Research Institute said it was not difficult to connect solar power to main grids safely. Such systems had been set up in countries including Australia and the United States, he said. 'Hong Kong's architects, developers, utilities, the Government, community and solar service providers need to get their acts together,' he said. Mr Entwistle - who said he was speaking on his own behalf rather than for his company - said solar power was taking off in other parts of the world but that Hong Kong could potentially catch up within five to eight years. Dr Close said Hong Kong should set itself a target for generating a portion of its electricity from alternative sources - for example, 25 per cent. The project to incorporate solar panels into the school on Ma Wan Island - funded by the CLP Research Institute and the Innovation and Technology Commission - would help educate children, save $43,000 a year in power bills and effectively reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 27 tonnes a year, she said. Solar power was a practical alternative in Hong Kong, she said. Mr Entwistle said solar panels could be used in building facades, roofs and shade canopies. There was an enormous number of buildings and other spaces in Hong Kong of the type which would lend themselves to generating solar energy, he added. Examples included highway noise barriers, Chek Lap Kok airport, the Peak Tower, and the Convention and Exhibition Centre.