Hong Kong can’t innovate like Shenzhen. But it can be an experimental hub for tech
- A compact city like Hong Kong is an ideal test lab for the development of 22nd-century technologies, including for mass transport and alternative energy
- Yet, as we choke on the fumes permitted by our outdated regulations, why are the current innovations in clean energy not being rolled out in Hong Kong?
The flood of goods imprinted with those four words made our city famous. We competed in the 1960s by copying and making cheap stuff. We took technology from others who innovated, manufactured it better, and sold it back to them. These are our roots.
But times have changed. Hong Kong’s economic strategy requires us to articulate and recapture our current competitive advantages – such as raising capital and marshalling global resources.
The first electric bus was developed over 50 years ago. Adoption of electric buses in China is now at a world-beating 14 per cent of the fleet, while Hong Kong’s electric bus fleet is dismal. In Europe, only 0.2 per cent of the bus fleet is electric. The United States lags further behind, at just 0.03 per cent.
The Hong Kong government has a crucial role to play in electrified transport, as bus franchises cannot invest in the future without being given government subsidies, or allowed to raise fares. The results would be a cleaner transport network and development of intellectual property, which can be exported elsewhere at a profit.
Ironically, some of Hong Kong’s private investors have been investing in fuel cell technology start-ups even though some also have stakes in the local franchised bus companies.
This is more than just developing battery-powered vehicles – a temporary technology because of the energy needed to carry heavy lithium-ion batteries and the high end-of-life cost of disposing of them. Karl Davies of H&BA Transformational Solutions, who has spent the past three years selling hydrogen fuel cells says that “the target at present is to demonstrate the technology on buses and light trucks”.
Nuvera Fuel Cells of the US, with over two decades of experience, is testing its 60kW hydrogen fuel cells in Golden Dragon buses on the mainland. Its CEO, Lucien Robroek, sees “the Western world also starting to embrace this approach”. The first hydrogen trains in France will start to roll from 2023; Japan has long been researching fuel cells for urban public transport.
If our government wishes to advance our clean energy credentials, it has to attack the internal issues that inhibit policy development and resource allocation. It is too easy for different departments, including the Environmental Protection Department (EPD), the Electrical and Mechanical Services Department, the Transport Department and the Treasury, as well as a whole host of other so-called specialists, to fight a turf war over clean energy policy.
The government can easily turn Hong Kong into an experimental centre for the development of new technology. But, to do so, it must instigate clearer lines of responsibility between its departments. At the moment, we are wasting our energy with too little vision and too much talk – producing much heat, but few results.
Richard Harris is chief executive of Port Shelter Investment and is a veteran investment manager, banker, writer and broadcaster, and financial expert witness