Why Hong Kong’s solar energy push risks leaving out village houses

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 28 June, 2018, 4:30pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 28 June, 2018, 10:24pm

To reduce Hong Kong’s carbon dioxide intensity by about 60 per cent of 2005 levels by 2030, the Hong Kong government has encouraged the use of renewable energy through an agreement with the two power companies, which will buy the electricity generated by the public via a “feed-in tariff” scheme.

However, villagers in the New Territories who are interested in investing and committing themselves to solar energy have some concerns.

Together with two NGOs, I launched a pilot scheme to help participating small-house owners in Tuen Mun, Pat Heung, San Tin and Tai Po to test the viability of using solar power devices on village house roofs. During the process, we ran up against a wall of bureaucracy when we tried to seek permission from the various government bureaus and departments – buildings, development, environment, and lands – to relax building rules. Our request was bounced between the agencies like a ping-pong ball.

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We have good reason for wanting these rules relaxed.

New Territories village houses that are exempted from certain provisions of the Buildings Ordinance are subject to guidelines which prohibit the installation of solar energy equipment with an average loading weight exceeding 150kg per square metre, with a coverage exceeding 5 square metres and a height over 2.5m.

On top of this, for non-exempted village houses, the Buildings Department further restricts the construction of solar devices to a height of 1.5m (4.92 feet). It is hard to imagine how one can manoeuvre in this claustrophobic space under a solar device of such a height.

Realistically, the attractiveness of the feed-in tariff scheme depends on how soon village house owners can recoup the cost of installing a solar device, which on average costs more than HK$100,000. In turn, this would depend on how much electricity the solar device can generate, which affects how much money house owners can get by selling the electricity to the power company.

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Generally speaking, the smaller the size of the solar device, the less wattage it can generate, thus affecting the length of time needed to recoup the installation cost.

The administration of Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor has vowed to reduce carbon emissions to make Hong Kong a liveable and low-carbon city. Village house owners are willing to support these goals and answer the government's call to promote the use of renewable energy. But they face challenges arising from building restrictions.

I would like to relay their concerns to the policy bureaus and departments concerned.

Junius Ho Kwan-yiu, legislative councillor for New Territories West