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Green Policy A Problem

Green policy a problem, says expert

Cheung Chi-fai – Updated on Jan 31, 2009 – SCMP

The government has wrongly believed that environmental protection was just about saving energy, and its green policy might create long-term problems, a leading academic says. Ron Hui Shu-yuen, of City University’s department of electronic engineering, said that banning fluorescent light bulbs could save energy but, without a proper way to dispose of them, would exacerbate another environmental
problem: mercury pollution.

He urged environmental officials to think before introducing energy-conservation policies, and to provide sufficient backup measures to address the side effects of such policies.

“Clearly the government has an incorrect understanding of environmental protection by equating it with energy saving,” Professor Hui said.

He said that without an effective recycling system for mercury-laden fluorescent light bulbs there would be increased toxins in the air caused by used bulbs breaking when they were improperly collected.

Professor Hui said the current recovery system, which relied on waste producers to take the bulbs to the Tsing Yi chemical waste treatment facility, was neither sufficient nor effective.

He said a major overseas light bulb manufacturer was close to commercial production of mercury-free energy-saving bulbs, and they would eventually replace fluorescent light bulbs on sale.

Professor Hui said television sets would similarly lead to more pollution because they also contained numerous toxic substances, particularly the older models that used cathode ray tubes.

A spokesman for the Environmental Protection Department said it would “give due weight to relevant
environmental considerations in formulating relevant policy and implementation proposals” of phasing out the light bulbs.

Call For TVs To Carry Energy Labels

Green group pushes for flat-screen televisions to show power use by law

Cheung Chi-fai – Updated on Jan 31, 2009 – SCMP

Flat-screen televisions should carry mandatory energy-efficiency labels, a green group says, as concern grows about how much power the sets use. The call comes as the European Union considers banning plasma television sets that waste energy and requiring other types of sets to carry energy-use ratings.

In the United States, a new standard measuring the power consumption of televisions was introduced in November. Sets are not given an Energy Star label unless they attain prescribed limits.

The US standard was introduced amid rising concern about a surge in power usage as televisions became bigger, with screen sizes up to 70 inches. This is coupled with rising television ownership per household, the introduction of digital broadcasting and changing viewing habits.

In Hong Kong, while televisions consume less electricity than air conditioners and refrigerators, they still accounted for about 5.5 per cent, or 547 gigawatt-hours, of aggregate power use in homes in 2006. They used more power than electric heaters, washing machines, rice cookers and clothes dryers, which accounted for 0.8 to 4.5 per cent, according to the Electrical and Mechanical Services Department.

Hahn Chu Hon-keung, environmental affairs manager of Friends of the Earth, said televisions should be given priority to carry mandatory energy labels since they had become essential appliances in the home.

“We have seen a growth of household power consumption attributed to different sorts of electronic products at home,” Mr Chu said. “Digital broadcasting has triggered a wave of TV replacements and it is good timing to expand the labelling scope.”

He said the current voluntary energy-efficiency labelling scheme for televisions was insufficient as the products only had to meet minimum standards on standby power mode. Even so, the label’s penetration rate was just 15 per cent, meaning fewer than two out of 10 televisions had been labelled. In shops, picture quality is usually highlighted and little is explicitly stated about power performance.

The city passed a law last year requiring producers and importers of air conditioners, fridges and compact fluorescent light bulbs to report energy usage levels under a mandatory labelling scheme.

A spokesman for the Environmental Protection Department said it had yet to decide the coverage of the second batch of products in the scheme. He said the department had noted that some countries were considering plans to restrict the sales of plasma televisions, and it had also been monitoring the development of energy efficiency standards for television sets.

“We will keep a close watch on relevant developments and review the position of Hong Kong, taking into consideration local factors including market demand and availability of substitutes,” he said.

The Electrical and Mechanical Services Department also said it was still reviewing the new US standards and corresponding test procedures. It advised consumers to buy lower-wattage sets or ones with smaller screens if they wanted to save energy.

A Little Knowledge Goes A Long Way In Saving Energy

Updated on Jan 31, 2009 – SCMP

Television has long been regarded as something that no home can do without. Yet most people know little of what it costs. It may come as a surprise that TVs add more to Hong Kong’s household electricity bills over a year than any other common appliances except air conditioners and refrigerators.

Environmental activists want consumers to have more information on the energy efficiency of the new generation of larger, flat-screen TV sets. As we report today, the green group Friends of the Earth has called for mandatory energy labelling along the lines of a law passed recently covering air conditioners, refrigerators and compact fluorescent light bulbs. The United States, for example, has adopted a new TV power consumption standard and the European Union is considering tighter regulations, including calls for a ban on plasma TVs, which use more power than liquid crystal displays.

The Environmental Protection Department has yet to decide what else to bring under the new labelling scheme, but environmentalists have a point. Few households have a need for more than one refrigerator, dryer, toaster or rice cooker. What sets TV and peripheral electronic products such as video and game-players apart is the increasing occurrence of multiple sets per household. Without information on energy efficiency, consumers focus on screen size and image resolution, without knowing the energy-cost implications over a long period of time.

TV is not to be compared with power hungry air conditioners or non-stop refrigerators. But every little bit of energy efficiency helps save fuel and combat global warming. And greater awareness would help encourage other good conservation habits, like not leaving the TV on in the background when no one is watching and turning off peripheral equipment such as cable boxes and video game consoles when not in use.

Given the revolution in home entertainment, mandatory energy labelling of TV sets is a good idea. It would enable consumers to make informed choices and protect the environment.

Those Who Dare May Gain

David Chan, SCMP – Updated on Jan 21, 2009

Investment opportunities remain in the mainland property market despite the effects of the global financial crisis, and one emerging asset class that may reward investors are “green” buildings.

Part of the 4 billion yuan (HK$4.54 billion) stimulus package unveiled recently was earmarked for the development of greener buildings running on lower-polluting energy supplies and built with an eye to conservation and an environmentally friendly infrastructure.

What we may see in the near future are very different greener properties being developed which may offer interesting new investment opportunities.

Indeed, many recent homebuyer surveys indicate that green projects offering greater energy efficiency are becoming key deciding factors and this trend should encourage the development of a “green is good” approach to development across China.

It is worth noting that the initiatives are considered to go much further than provisions contained in Hong Kong’s proposed energy code which is scheduled for a first reading in the Legislative Council some time this year.

As always the three rules of property investment – location, location, location – also still apply.

However, investors should proceed with caution and an eye on the timing of their entry into the market because the general consensus is the mainland, Hong Kong and the rest of the world will experience a deep economic recession this year.

Less certain is how long the downturn will last and how severe it will be although by one measure – jobs – analysts are forecasting that unemployment in Hong Kong could reach 6 per cent this year.

The property sector is no exception to the list of casualties, with demand and prices dropping across the board.

So what will be the property investment outlook for the Year of the Ox?

First, it is important to bear in mind that the downturn has affected China with recent reports indicating that gross domestic product growth will slow this year to possibly below 8 per cent. This has already triggered declines of up to 30 per cent in property prices for commercial and residential markets in tier-one cities, and 20 per cent in tier-two cities.

In Hong Kong, we have seen an even greater drop of 40 per cent in luxury stock and up to 30 per cent in the mass market.

For example, China Vanke (the mainland’s largest residential developer by market capitalisation) has cut prices of projects in Guangzhou by 30 per cent and has also either slowed or suspended indefinitely construction on some projects to reduce inventory levels.

During the last downturn to affect Hong Kong – the severe acute respiratory syndrome epidemic in 2003 – property prices fell precipitously. Those buyers confident that the market would rebound used the opportunity to buy and as a result were rewarded with impressive gains as property prices rose to record highs last year.

So, presuming you are able to stay employed and have built up a nest egg over the last few years could this experience be repeated?

“Green” investment themes aside, location should continue to head investor’s shopping lists and Shanghai should not be dismissed since the 2010 World Expo will generate renewed interest in the property market. The completion of an upgraded and extended transport infrastructure (and more to come), will make property along the new metro stations attractive.

It is worth noting that the capacity of the Hongqiao airport will be vastly expanded by the completion of a second terminal building, enhancing its status as an air transport hub.

In Beijing, the areas which have been developed by Soho China are also of interest as is the site of the 2008 Olympic Games which is likely to be preserved as a landmark with its impressive bird’s nest stadium and water cube aquatic centre. This should have a knock-on effect for the neighbouring residential market.

Southward, development along the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link, connecting Guangzhou, Dongguan, and Shenzhen in Guangdong province to Hong Kong, should be followed.

When completed, the expected travel time between Guangzhou and Hong Kong will be cut to 48 minutes.

In Shenzhen, the Baoan Airport railway link should help to transform the airport from primarily a domestic operation into an international hub, adding potential investment opportunities around the locality.

Conversely, it may prompt the Hong Kong government to reconsider the environmentally destructive plan for a third runway at Chek Lap Kok.

For second-tier cities, investors could look westward at Chengdu where the government has earmarked 260 billion yuan for rebuilding work for the region with the city as the centre of development activities.

While China will be affected by events internationally, it is worth noting that world economies are all interconnected and hence the flow of funds goes to markets offering relatively better stability and sounder economic prospects.

With the United States and Europe already into deep and possibly prolonged recession, China remains a comparatively better investment market in which fund managers may park their assets in the medium and longer term.

There is no escaping the economic downturn which is likely to affect Hong Kong and the mainland this year. However, returns are likely to be on offer for those investing in a quality project across the border.

The ox might still turn into a bull this year for those who dare.

David Chan is an architect and a partner of China-based property consultancy DKL Partners

Switch On To Green Lifestyle

SCMP – Updated on Jan 10, 2009

A number of your correspondents have written to these columns about energy saving light bulbs.

These light bulbs are collected for recycling in Hong Kong. Improper disposal may lead to pollution. However, proper use and disposal leads to massive environmental advantages – saving energy, saving the Earth’s limited resources and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Also, ordinary light bulbs generate more heat and in the hot weather this leads to increased energy consumption by air conditioners. I was in Britain in October and one large supermarket chain was selling a limited supply of energy saving bulbs for the equivalent of HK$1 instead of the usual HK$25.

In Hong Kong there is no excuse for people not to try to work harder to reduce energy use and live a greener life.

W. K. Yau, Tai Po

When The Grass Is Greener On The Inside

Tim Woodward, SCMP – Updated on Jan 09, 2009

When she renovated her home in Idaho, Jeri Rutherford found a way to go green – literally. A 170 sq ft dining-room addition has helped cut her power bills by up to 20 per cent. And it brought a lush, if small, island of greenery to her home. “I love the tropics and the fern grottos of the California redwood forest,” she says. “I know I can’t be there all the time, so I wondered how I could bring those places into my home.”

The result is a living wall and floor with plants that clean the air. Paired with a whole-house fan and a heat well that releases hot air through a skylight, the plants help cool the entire house. “Plants transpire and evaporate water, which cools the environment,” Rutherford said. “I have 170 sq ft of natural refrigeration.” The plants also clean the air of pollutants, she says. “And the fan circulates cool air from downstairs and outside when the downstairs windows are open. It changes the air in the house every 13 minutes. Now, the air conditioning comes on at 2.30pm on hot days instead of 10 in the morning.”

In winter the plants and soil act as an insulator and moderator of temperature. But the best part, she says with a straight face, is her morning coffee. “I like to sit with my shoes off and drink my coffee with my feet on the moss of the living floor,” she says. “When we have [temperature] inversions and it’s nothing but grey outside, that’s where I’ll be. In my fern grotto with my feet in the moss.”

Rutherford’s power bill was down 20 per cent from the previous year for the first month she was using the addition. The savings the second month were 5 per cent. The difference, she says, was that she was travelling during the second month and not home to open downstairs windows or turn on the fan to ventilate the house. Average savings are expected to be about 10 per cent. “Eventually, I’ll have a computer to turn on the fan and open the windows and skylight when I’m not home,” she says. “That should save even more.”

But it’s not just about savings. Rutherford says the plants almost double the humidity in her home, providing relief from sinus problems and dry skin. A friend jokes she has saved US$50 a month on moisturising lotions. “And the house smells lovely,” she says. “It’s like being outside when you’re inside.”

The 1.2-metre by 3.6-metre living wall has 350 plants growing from a layer of Miracle-Gro. Blossoming plants in the wall and ground cover on the floor, rooted in soil supported by a fibreglass bowl, provide what she describes as “an ever-changing palette of colour.”

Some plants are edible, including basil, strawberries, chives and oxalis. Bugs? No problem. Extending the green approach to pest control, Rutherford has a live-in gecko and praying mantis. The idea came to her on a bike ride.

“I was thinking about how I could bring a bit of the world I’d seen in my travels into my life at home,” she says. “That’s when I got the idea for a living wall. When I saw the research on natural cooling and cleaning the air, it was a no-brainer.”


Put Clocks Forward To Cut Down On Eectricity Consumption

SCMP – Updated on Jan 06, 2009

Letters have appeared in these columns advocating so-called “energy efficient” light bulbs and criticising excessive lighting of buildings, described as light pollution.

The spectacular night view of the harbour is one of our tourist attractions, but it comes at a cost. As darkness falls, the lights come on, everywhere in Hong Kong, consuming electricity which pollutes our air and contributes to global warming. It would cost a fortune to replace every bulb with energy efficient bulbs and as Robert Hanson points out (“Energy saving bulbs do not live up to name”, January 3), these bulbs are more damaging to the environment than conventional bulbs. Fortunately there are other ways to save electricity, ones with no adverse ecological effects. On the shortest day of last year and including the twilight periods at the end of the day, we had daylight from 6.33am to 6.09pm. In June we will have daylight at 5.15am. Do we need daylight so early in the morning?

If we advance our clocks and adopt GMT plus nine hours as our standard time throughout the year, we will avoid wasting morning daylight and postpone the need for evening lighting by one hour. We had daylight saving from 1941 to 1979. Clocks were put forward an hour from the beginning of April to the end of October. In 1973 the government responded to the oil price crisis by implementing daylight saving from December 1973 to October 1974. We now have energy, pollution and global warming crises and similar measures are called for.

In 1974 we had double-shift schools and factory shifts and early daylight was deemed necessary, but today our schools are single shift, our factories have gone and we are a 9 to 5 economy. We do not need early daylight. If we also have summer daylight saving (GMT plus 10), on the longest day of the year dawn would break at 7.15am and daylight would last until 9.35pm. The electricity savings and social benefits would be significant.

Chinese premier Wen Jiabao has said the developed world should tackle climate change and alter its unsustainable lifestyle. Hong Kong is part of the developed world and part of China. We must act responsibly and set an example.

Robert L. Wilson, Discovery Bay

Stimulus Package Boosts Green Efforts

Matthias Voss and Matthew Bisley, SCMP – Updated on Jan 05, 2009

The 4 trillion yuan (HK$4.55 trillion) stimulus package announced last month by the central government gives impetus to energy efficiency development and opportunities on the mainland.

The 2007 Energy Conservation Law came into force on April 1 last year against a backdrop of a fast-growing economy and rise in demand energy and fuel prices, a growing awareness of environmental issues and increasing world pressure on developing economies including China to use environmentally friendly and technologically advanced energy sources. While economic circumstances have since changed, the stimulus revitalises opportunities in the energy sector arising from the Energy Conservation Law.

The law has three principal goals: to promote policies for energy conservation and environmental protection; to restrict the development of high-energy consumption and high-pollution industries; and to encourage the development of energy-saving and environmentally friendly industries.

It proposes many policy initiatives to achieve energy conservation ranging from passive measures – education, energy efficiency labelling, accreditation systems for products, publication of energy use statistics and awards systems for energy conservation achievement – to more direct measures such as government funding, tax incentives, subsidies, prohibitions on the use of high energy consuming or polluting technologies, introduction of maximum emission standards for motor vehicles and focused government procurement of energy-saving products.

The law is supported by regulations in specific sectors. Banks, for example, are required to monitor and actively support energy-efficiency projects while developers must incorporate energy-efficient technologies into new projects.

The present economic environment is vastly different from that existing when the law was introduced, threatening the opportunities expected to arise from the new law. There has been a general slowdown in the Chinese economy and oil prices have dropped, making the introduction of energy-efficient technologies relatively more expensive.

However, the State Council’s announcement that one of the 10 measures of the stimulus package is the enhancement of environmental and ecological development makes the prospects of this sector brighter.

The law supported by the stimulus package creates opportunities for participants in the energy sector, including manufacturers of energy-efficient products and technologies, real estate developers, architects, banks, leasing companies, project sponsors, consultants and advisers.

The new regulatory environment should also foster collaboration. For example, manufacturers may link up with financiers or leasing companies to promote sales of their products, and manufacturers and financiers may co-operate with government entities for particular government initiatives. Independent of the new regulatory environment, the energy-efficiency market has already started to develop with support from international financial organisations such as International Finance Corp and Asian Development Bank.

Matthias Voss is a partner of the banking practice at Allen & Overy in Shanghai and Matthew Bisley is a counsel of the banking practice in Shanghai

Substation Uses 15pc Less Power With Roof Garden, Sun And Wind

Ng Yuk-hang, SCMP – Updated on Dec 26, 2008

Two windmills on the roof of a grey building in Marsh Road, Causeway Bay, might not mean much to the casual observer but they are clues to the unique character of what Hongkong Electric calls the “first green substation in Hong Kong”.

The Marsh Road substation, which came into use in August this year, serves Wan Chai, Admiralty and Central, including the Tamar site where the new government headquarters will be built.

Hongkong Electric said the project cost HK$100 million, of which 2 per cent was spent on environmentally friendly facilities.

The six-storey substation uses 15 per cent less electricity each year than traditional substations.

That amounts to 250,000 kWh, or the equivalent of a month of electricity used by 714 families, according to Tso Che-wah, the power company’s general manager for projects.

The British-made windmills and 16 solar panels provide enough energy to light the entire substation.

Meanwhile, the building uses light-emitting diode tubes and energy-saving 16mm fluorescent lights, which consume less energy, have a longer lifespan and lead to lower carbon dioxide emissions.

Dr Tso said the substation was characterised by its rooftop garden, whose plants helped to lower the interior temperature by 2 degrees Celsius – in turn saving 10 per cent of the energy used each year on air conditioning.

The plants are watered mainly by rain, which is collected and stored in a tank on the roof. That saved about 180,000 litres of water a year, Dr Tso said.

The substation had been built in an environmentally friendly way, he said. It used concrete that contained 5 per cent fuel ash, from the company’s power station on Lamma Island.

Further, the rooftop was paved with recycled plastic waste.

Inside the building, elevators are switched off if left unused for more than 30 minutes, while extra windows for ventilation in the corridors reduce the need for air conditioning.

The Marsh Road substation was built to “accommodate community development in the next decade”, Dr Tso said.

Hongkong Electric has about 40 substations on Hong Kong Island.

Some older substations had been renovated to include more environmentally friendly features.

For example, a rooftop garden was added to the Connaught Road zone station, which is next to the Harbour Building.

Future substations would all be green, according to Dr Tso.

On Other Matters …

SCMP – Updated on Dec 17, 2008

I refer to the letter by E. Delannoy (Talkback, December 9), criticising the MTR Corporation’s strategy on saving energy. He asked why it was “shutting down a number of escalators in stations at certain hours”, but still keeping the air conditioning at cold temperatures inside its carriages [from Tung Chung to Central]. I support his views on this issue for a number of reasons.

I wonder how much energy is saved by shutting off a number of escalators and compare that with how much is wasted by having air conditioning at such high levels over a long period on the trains. Air conditioning that keeps the temperatures so low inside MTR trains must consume a great deal of energy.

The fact is that passengers feel uncomfortable in the carriages when they are so cold. Therefore, one simple way to conserve energy would be for the MTR Corp to lower the temperatures.

It could also try to install a good ventilation system so it does not have to rely on air conditioning to provide a flow of air. I hope MTR Corp can look into these problems and rectify them.

Angel Chan, Tuen Mun