How Hong Kong can gain from better clean energy goals: save money, save public health, save the world

PUBLISHED : Monday, 09 April, 2018, 2:37pm
UPDATED : Monday, 09 April, 2018, 11:24pm

In Hong Kong, renewable energy sources play a negligible role in power generation and account for less than 1 per cent of total energy consumption, despite the suitability of our island location and subtropical climate to wind and solar power.

Coal, nuclear and natural gas dominate electricity generation due to the scheme of control agreements with the city’s two power providers. Japan has set a 22-24 per cent renewable energy target, and the European Union 27 per cent, for 2030.

But our lack of clear targets has resulted in a policy gap where there is no support for renewable energy.

Using renewable energy brings public health and environmental benefits, such as reduced air pollution, reduced water use (coal plants need water for cooling), lower health care costs from air pollution-related illnesses, as well as mitigation of climate change by reducing greenhouse gases.

Hong Kong villagers using solar energy to help power their homes

The introduction of feed-in tariffs in Hong Kong means that new second-generation solar technology, such as transparent “solar glass” – highly transparent solar cells – and thin-film solar cells, which rival the performance of traditional polysilicon cells, could be used on the windows and glass facades of our skyscrapers, allowing third parties to contribute to the grid through renewables.

‘More than half’ of Hongkongers can accept 5 per cent rise in power bills to support renewable energy

According to Lazard, a financial advisory firm that publishes an annual levelised cost of energy analysis, renewable energy costs continue to decline. Clearly, the economic benefits of renewable energy research are rising, as manufacturing methods mature and economies of scale help to reduce costs. For instance, as wind turbines get bigger energy output increases and the turbine’s cost is further offset by the greater amount of lower-cost energy produced.

How China has embraced renewable energy and Hong Kong hasn’t, and what’s behind city’s green power inertia

Also, the price of photovoltaic cells has been falling steadily, from US$76.67 per watt in 1977 to US$0.45 per watt in 2017, largely driven by automation leading to lower labour costs and other manufacturing-related improvements.

With renewable energy holding the potential to save money and provide numerous benefits, the Hong Kong government needs to capitalise on the related technology by filling the policy void, setting renewable energy targets, internalising carbon emissions via tax and encouraging community-based renewable energy systems in parallel with feed-in tariffs.

Sion Griffiths, project officer, Friends of the Earth (HK)