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Hong Kong environmental issues

Don’t ‘waste’ renewable energy potential of Hong Kong school rooftops, Greenpeace says

  • Officials claim city can only draw up to 4 per cent of its electricity needs from renewable sources between now and 2030
  • Green group counters that if just half of 19 schools were fitted with photovoltaic solar panels, 751 three-person households could be served locally
PUBLISHED : Thursday, 25 October, 2018, 7:13pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 25 October, 2018, 8:43pm

Hong Kong environmental officials are overlooking the immense potential of school rooftops in their quest to develop more renewable energy generation in the city, a green group has asserted.

The Environment Bureau previously estimated that with limited space and the currently available technology, Hong Kong would at most only be able to draw up to 4 per cent of its electricity needs from renewable sources between now and 2030 – up from less than 1 per cent now.

But Greenpeace East Asia said officials were not looking hard enough.

With the help of Baptist University’s Asian Energy Studies Centre, the environmental group surveyed 22 different primary and secondary schools across the city between January and August.

Having obtained rooftop floor area data for 19 of them, researchers computed that 2.4 million kilowatt-hours of electricity could be generated per year, if just half of their rooftops were fitted with photovoltaic (PV) solar panels.

That amount is enough to meet the average power consumption of 751 three-person households in Hong Kong.

At present, the installed capacity of renewable energy is not even at 1 per cent
Dr Daphne Mah, Baptist University

“At present, the installed capacity of renewable energy is not even at 1 per cent,” centre director Dr Daphne Mah Ngar-yin said.

“The government needs to actively develop this by further exploiting the solar potential of some 1,000 primary and secondary schools instead of just letting these natural resources go to waste.”

In her recent policy address, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said the government would take the lead in promoting such renewable energy “in a more systematic manner”.

Measures included exploring the feasibility of installing PV panels on landfill slopes and expanding floating PV systems at reservoirs.

New programmes to help schools and NGOs implement small-scale renewable energy systems were also being launched.

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A bureau spokesman said the new scheme for schools and NGOs would involve helping them pay the relevant capital costs including components, installation fees, site inspections and technical support.

“The Environment Bureau and Electrical and Mechanical Services Department ... will announce detailed arrangements next year,” the spokesman added.

Meanwhile, the city’s two power companies have just launched their respective feed-in tariff schemes, which allow households and businesses that generate clean power to sell it to the grid at higher than market rates. This would shorten the payback period on their investments.

“In addition to landfills and reservoirs, school rooftops have potential,” Greenpeace climate and energy campaigner Walton Li said. “Schools can also use PV systems as part of their environmental and science education.”

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But regardless of the new feed-in tariff scheme, Li noted, many schools faced red tape and high entry costs.

Hiring surveyors and contractors for handling the installations were major expenses that few public schools could easily shoulder. Application procedures were complex, time-consuming and tedious, according to To Kar-hing, principal at the Buddhist Wing Yan School in Yuen Long.

To recalled how the school waited five years to obtain funding from the government’s Environment and Conservation Fund for just a dozen solar panels.

“In the time it took to handle paperwork, installation costs increased 20 per cent,” he said.