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CTA at Quarry Bay School on Energy in HK

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

Summer 2016 saw record heat, and health problems from air pollution are rising, yet green energy projects have been shelved or denied funding; electricity firms lack incentives to go green, WWF says

Professor Johnny Chan Chun-leung is one of Hong Kong’s most eminent climate and energy scientists, and he is a very frustrated man. This month Beijing announced it would invest 2.5 trillion yuan (HK$2.8 trillion) in renewable energy technology by 2020 to establish the nation as world leader in sustainable and clean energy, and create 13 million jobs. Meanwhile, Chan and other respected scientists in Hong Kong are struggling to obtain financial support for their green energy projects.

Whereas China embraces wind, tide, solar and wave energy as essential tools to tackle climate change and its acute air pollution, attitudes in Hong Kong appear as fossilised as the fuel that provides 78 per cent of its energy needs.

Chan, chair professor of atmospheric science at the City University of Hong Kong’s School of Energy and Environment, outlined details of an innovative tidal turbine project at a conference on renewable energy last week, organised by the city’s Business Environment Council. Chan’s team has developed a system that can generate electricity even in low tidal streams, typical of the seas around Hong Kong. Though it is early days, trials staged at the Gold Coast Marina in the city’s Tuen Mun district produced encouraging results.

He now needs funding to scale it up, with a view to offering the city a viable green energy alternative, but his application to the Environment and Conservation Fund for HK$2 million was rejected. “The ECF told me today that I ‘did not demonstrate the merits and contributions of the proposed study to environmental protection’,” he says. “How ridiculous.”

It is not an isolated incident. Others complain privately that Hong Kong funding bodies are “overly risk averse” and are rarely enthusiastic about funding green energy research and development.

“I believe more can be done to promote local funding for R&D for all renewable energy components,” says Dr Walid Daoud, a solar energy expert from City University and another speaker at the council’s conference. Many believe these difficulties are just one symptom of a wider malaise when it comes to supporting green energy in Hong Kong.

“Hong Kong performs badly in overall carbon emissions and renewable energy,” says Cheung Chi-wah, senior head of climate and footprint programmes at environmental campaign group WWF-Hong Kong. He notes that the city’s emissions of greenhouse gases responsible for global warming have been rising steadily and are 23 per cent above their level in 2002. That was the same year the Hong Kong government published its first study of renewable energy, compiled by the Electrical and Mechanical Services Department. The report estimated that 17 per cent of Hong Kong’s energy needs could be supplied by solar power alone.

It also made a key primary recommendation that the government should set targets for renewable energy’s contribution to demand of 1 per cent, 2 per cent and 3 per cent for 2012, 2017 and 2022, respectively. Nearly 15 years later, with electricity consumption rising about 5 per cent a year, the city recording record-breaking temperatures last summer, and health problems due to worsening air pollution growing, very little has been achieved. Instead of the proposed 2 per cent target for 2017, the latest data shows that the proportion of energy used in the city that is produced by renewable means is still less than 1 per cent – far from the 17 per cent potential – and the targets have not even been implemented.

Indeed, by 2012 only 2.2 megawatts of solar photovoltaic panels, capable of meeting 0.01 per cent of Hong Kong’s energy needs, had been installed.

Hong Kong is also one of the few advanced cities in the world with no feed-in tariff scheme, or “net metering system”, in place. This means that, rather than small-scale green energy producers being paid for contributing any excess energy to the grid, they can only donate it.

Energy consultant Mike Thomas, of the Lantau Group, another speaker at the council’s event, thinks it is unhelpful to compare China and Hong Kong in terms of being “behind or ahead” because of the vast differences in the two economies’ scale, resources and political systems. He also believes Hong Kong is taking the right steps by implementing the government’s new fuel mix for energy supply by 2020, which consists of about 50 per cent natural gas, around 25 per cent nuclear power and more use of renewable energy sources. Natural gas is still a fossil fuel, but 30 per cent to 50 per cent cleaner than coal in terms of emissions.

“It is true that there is very little renewable energy, strictly speaking, but given the rabid debate about the use of green space for housing, I’m not sure that converting the hillsides to solar panels would appeal either,” he says. The issue of “low energy density” (the relatively high land area needed to produce 1 kilowatt of renewable electricity) is often cited by opponents of renewable energy in Hong Kong, which, including its 263 islands, has a land area of just 1,104 sq km.

Douad calculates the city would need to cover 20 per cent of its surface area with 10 per cent efficient solar panels to meet its energy needs, yet he remains a firm advocate of solar power.

“The 20 per cent is for the actual lateral 2D land use. However, we could also consider the vertical 3D of the urban landscape, using building walls as well as rooftops, sun-exposed roads and highways, sound barriers and water reservoirs,” he says.

While delegates at the council’s conference earnestly discuss the possibilities of using renewable energy locally, most leading cities have already embraced renewables and the smart grid – the use of digital technology to improve reliability, resiliency, flexibility, and efficiency – and have coherent policies in place to foster them.

Singapore is ramping up the use of solar panels through initiatives such as SolarNova, a government-led programme, and investing in green energy research via The Energy Research Institute. The city state is already seeing positive results. Figures for 2014 show that green energy sources contributed 3.7 per cent of total energy consumption (up from 2.4 per cent in 2005) and analysts expect that figure to top 5 per cent by 2020.

Hong Kong does have small-scale solar schemes designed for local consumption, and some government buildings generate solar power, but its approach to solar energy is piecemeal.

CLP Power, one of the city’s two electricity suppliers, commissioned its award-winning renewable energy power plant on Town Island in Sai Kung in January 2010, comprising wind turbines and solar panels, to supply the needs of the island’s drug rehabilitation centre, and says it has connected about 250 small-scale local schemes.

The other supplier, Hongkong Electric, says about 70 local use renewable systems have been connected to its grid over the past 10 years. It also operates a 1MW solar plant and the only wind turbine connected to Hong Kong’s power grid.

It might be imagined that geographical restrictions and a scarcity of available land would make harnessing offshore wind, wave and tidal power – as Chan proposes – more attractive, but there is little sign of progress on any of these. Detailed proposals from the electricity companies to build offshore wind farms were awarded environmental permits, but both schemes were shelved in 2013 and mysteriously disappeared from the local energy agenda.

“We are in the process of collecting wind, wave and other environmental data, along with a review of the engineering design, to complete the feasibility study,” a CLP spokesman says of its plan.

Hongkong Electric’s proposed wind farm in waters off Lamma Island was to supply 1.5 per cent of its total output. Asked about the proposal, a company spokesman says “field wind measurement has been going on since 2012”.

Cheung says no one in the industry understands why the company needs to collect five years of wind data. He suspects the real reason for offshore wind power being dropped is that the schemes of control both power companies have negotiated with the government, which regulate their profits on operations and investment, do not offer enough financial sweeteners for either company to proceed.

The current schemes of control are due to expire by end of 2018, and the government is negotiating terms with the companies to renew them. Cheung thinks it’s “a perfect time for the government to show its determination by introducing significant targets and incentives for energy consumption reduction and [renewable energy] development”.

One of the thorny issues that will need to be ironed out is tariffs. Hong Kong has some of the cheapest and most reliable power in the world (electricity costs about half what it does in New York). Although it is widely believed that greater use of green energy is essential, there is less agreement on who will pay for the higher prices or pick up the bill for integration of an intermittent power source to the grid.

While energy costs account for only 1.6 per cent of the average Hong Kong household’s budget, there is little commercial incentive for change and little political appetite for heaping extra costs on hard-pressed families.

There is more hope than expectation that Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying will use his final policy address to announce Hong Kong will follow Beijing’s lead and reveal a bold new policy for renewable energy with defined targets, a credible strategy to achieve them, and support for home-grown innovations such as Chan’s.
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Hong Kong’s hybrid electric buses found to use more fuel than normal ones

‘The numbers don’t look satisfactory,’ says environment official

Hybrid electric double-decker buses actually guzzle more fuel than conventional buses because of Hong Kong’s hilly roads and hot weather, according to preliminary results from an ongoing trial.

Environmental Protection Department officials admitted the six hybrid buses, trialled over a year, were “not as efficient as they thought”. They pointed to heavy use of air conditioning systems, which accounted for up to 40 per cent of the energy used in the summer.

Although fuel performance was better in winter, the buses still used 3.4 per cent more fuel on average than regular buses.

“The numbers don’t look satisfactory right now,” assistant director for air policy Mok Wai-chuen told the legislature’s environmental affairs panel on Wednesday.

“Because buses in Hong Kong use a lot of energy in air conditioning, the benefits of the hybrid mode are not maximised. We are allowing [the manufacturer] time to improve designs … and will come back to report on this later.”

The government spent HK$33 million helping the three franchised bus companies acquire the six hybrids in a bid to explore less polluting vehicle options. The two-year trial began in November 2014.

Lawmaker Tony Tse Wai-chuen questioned why none of the obvious issues were identified before the start of the trial and feared the experiment would end up being “futile”.

Separately, the department announced the start of its latest review of the city’s air quality objectives. These objectives were last tweaked in 2014.

It set up a working group to conduct the review and look into control measures “for other lesser air pollution sources” such as aviation emissions and volatile organic compounds, a major component of ozone.

The latest official data shows ambient concentrations of PM10, PM2.5, nitrogen dioxide and sulphur dioxide dropping 21, 24, 13 and 31 per cent respectively from 2011 to 2015.

Roadside concentrations fell 26, 21, 19 and 33 per cent in the same period respectively. But harmful ozone pollution at both general and roadside stations is still on the rise.

The Clean Air Network urged the government to set the new objectives according to the World Health Organisation’s most stringent air quality guidelines, as several of the current objectives only met its interim targets, which it said did not provide adequate protection to public health.
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CTA Letter to EPD on Landfill Gas Levels in Hong Kong

From: EPD
Sent: 26 February, 2016
Subject: Query on current levels of Landfill Gas in Hong Kong

Dear Mr. Middleton,

Thank you again for your email dated 12 Jan 2016 regarding the use of LFG.

You may well understand that LFG is generated as a result of physical, chemical and microbial processes that undergo within the waste cells of the landfill. The processes and hence the generation rate would vary from time to time according to different waste intake history, environmental conditions (e.g. temperature, extent of leachate circulation), and configurations of the landfill site (e.g. landfill depth and thickness of cover material), etc. It is noted that the LFG generation at local landfills has been relatively steady over the past few years. In any case, we have been closely monitoring the management of the landfills to ensure landfill operations are in accordance with stringent environmental standards.

As you have already noted that it is a government policy to encourage utilization of LFG recovered from the landfill sites. Apart from on-site utilization at all three strategic landfills, there have been arrangements for off-site utilization at NENT and SENT landfills. In order to make best use of the LFG recovered, EPD has been working closely with the landfill contractor of WENT Landfill in exploring and identifying various practicable beneficial use of surplus LFG recovered at the landfill site. As part of our on-going effort, we have taken the liberty to pass on the information of overseas experience in your email to the contractor for reference/consideration.

May I thank you again for your interest in the Hong Kong environment, which is very much appreciated and important for the continual enhancement of our local environment.

H. S. Chan
for the Director of Environmental Protection Department


From: CTA
Sent: 12th January, 2016
Subject: Query on current levels of Landfill Gas in Hong Kong

Dear Gary

Thanks for your reply

In 2008 the LFG at the 3 sites collected was as follows: 26,600 m3 per hour

Obviously as the landfills get older and larger the LFG would normally increase but I note that the 2014 rate is 12.400/6,450/7,185 = 26,035 m3 per hour
which is lower than 2008, of which you state approx 80% (20,828 m3 per hour) would be beneficially used and the remainder (5,200 m3 per hour/ 124,800 m3 per day / 45,552,000 m3 per year)
is flared off.

That seems an awful lot of wasted methane and relevant pollution caused by the flaring. I understand methane is 21 times more damaging to the environment than CO2 but surely some better use
could be made of the gas ?

For example I note that companies like SITA promote liquid biomethane from landfill gas in UK and Europe – why not here too ?

Kind regards,
James Middleton


CTA Letter to Legco on Hong Kong Waste Management

Download (PDF, 632KB)

45,552,000 cubic meters of landfill gas is currently flared off per year from the 3 HKG open landfill sites

Download (PDF, 356KB)

New Energy [R]Evolution Scenario from Greenpeace

The new 364-page Greenpeace scenario (GPER)1 portrays a world that is dominated by solar and wind by 2030 and even more so by 2050. Together they provide 43 per cent of electrical energy in 2030 and 75 per cent in 2050, replacing first lignite and nuclear, then coal and then gas. Biomass, geothermal and ocean power are given a minor role, but together with hydro they can help balance intermittent wind and photovoltaics. Much of this is what you would expect. Solar thermal, which produces power from solar heat, will also make also a big contribution, almost 19 per cent of all electricity by 2050, not so far behind PV. Heat can be stored, so power output is (somewhat) dispatchable, unlike PV, and can provide power at night. However, unlike photovoltaics, solar thermal power has so far not lived up to its promises. Greenpeace has long had high hopes for it, but has now postponed its breakthrough.

The hard part of reducing CO₂ emissions is not electricity, though. Neither is it heat, which can be provided via electricity, and that is what GPER counts on.

The hardest part is transport. There are three options: biofuels, electric cars, and hydrogen. Biofuels are produced in large quantity now, but mainly from farmland, where they may compete with food production and biodiversity. Electric cars are favoured by many car manufacturers, but Toyota, the biggest of them all, opts for hydrogen-powered fuel cell cars. GPER bets on both.
“The limited potentials of biofuels and probably also battery electric mobility make it necessary to have a third renewable option”, i.e. hydrogen.

This still means a tremendous increase in electricity (batteries) for road traffic: from 9 petajoules (PJ) in 2012, to 400 PJ in 2020 and 23,000 in 2050. Biofuels also increase, but only to about twice the present volume.
“The use of biofuels is limited by the availability of sustainably grown biomass. It will primarily be committed to heavy machinery, aviation and shipping, where electricity does not seem to be an option for the next few decades. Outside the transport sector, biomass is needed for specific industries to supply process heat and carbon”.

Let me add a personal note. When I interviewed people at the pro-CCS organisation Bellona in Oslo in 2008, their main line of argument was that CCS is needed because you cannot cut emissions enough without it. “Look at Greenpeace’s brand new [R]Evolution scenario”, they said. “It does not do the job!”

I found that this was true. The 2008 GPER projected just a 2 per cent global emission drop from year 2000 to year 2030. Fossil use in global primary energy demand would decrease only 50 per cent from 2010 to 2050. Obviously this was no way to save the world.

Intriguing. Greenpeace are no cowards. They are brave, outspoken, and smart!

They now have improved their act since 2008. The 2015 [R]Evolution sets 2050 CO₂ emissions at 4,358 Mtons, compared with 10,589 in the 2008 scenario. This means a fair chance of limiting warming to 2 degrees. But almost all the cuts are projected to take place after 2030. And this is not compatible with limiting warming to 1.5 degrees.

Maybe that is what is likely to happen, but what then is the point? The scenario should look at possibilities, to explain what Greenpeace wants, not what it guesses.

Now energy modelling is a tricky business. You feed in a lot of data and assumptions and the least you should ask for is internal consistency, so all the sums add up. It is mathematically quite demanding to construct a model that generates numbers on coal consumption In China in 2050 that fit together with economic growth assumptions and wind power installations in North America in 2025. Obviously you do not want wind power to grow very fast one year and then grind to a halt the next year, because unless you have a fairly consistent trend, the model will get very unstable, so a small change in one assumption will cause a landslide of big changes everywhere else. Unless the computer overheats.

But this requirement for stability and smoothness of curves in the model seems to lead to an unwarranted conservatism about the rate of change.

In the real world things happen superfast, stop or even slide backwards, and then skyrocket again. Two neighbouring countries move at extremely different speeds. Take solar power development in a group of countries since 2007.

In 2007, Germany was practically alone in its quest for solar, though Spain had just started. Then several countries experienced growth rates of several hundred per cent for several years. Spain, for example, grew its solar production from 0.5 TWh in 2007 to 12 TWh in 2012, i.e. by a factor of 24, or an average annual growth of 89 per cent. The 2008 growth was more than 400 per cent. The reasons for the fits and starts are overwhelmingly political. The 470 per cent growth that was seen in Italy in 2011 decelerated in 2013 not because the infrastructure would not permit more or because the market was saturated. It decelerated because of political decisions, just as the boom started as a result of political decisions.

Much the same can be seen for wind power. Between 2013 and 2014, Egypt’s wind power grew by 3,244 percent. Denmark’s solar power capacity grew by 2,040 per cent in 2012.

The opposite, contraction, can also happen pretty quickly. As a result of the Fukushima accident, Japan went from 292.4 TWh of nuclear power in 2010 to zero in 2014. There was also a drastic change in Germany. UK coal use fell by 20 per cent in 2014. Gas consumption in Europe fell dramatically between 2011 and 2014.

Over a longer time span and over larger regions, curves get smoother. Not because of physical constraints or saturation – but because governments cave in to the fossil and nuclear lobby.

But even on longer timescales and around the whole world, the models tend to underestimate change. The IEA has consistently overestimated nuclear and coal, and underestimated wind and solar in its canonical annual World Energy Outlooks.

NGO scenarios have tended to bend and stretch the IEA models, but to stay within their framework. In models, CO₂ emissions appear as a product of GDP, population, energy intensity etc. This is highly questionable, because emissions are real, while GDP and energy intensity are just derived numbers. Population is real but its effect on emissions is too erratic to be useful for any prediction or prescription. Luxemburg, with just 0.5 million people, uses as much electricity as Ethiopia, which has 100 million people.

The 2008 [R]Evolution scenario projected 386 TWh solar PV for 2020. Greenpeace was too shy to even hope for what happened anyway.

Evolution, according to Charles Darwin, moves slowly by small, small steps. But then he did not know that all multicellular life started with one single extremely improbable event, and that one asteroid killed off all the dinosaurs 65 million years ago.

The world is less inert, more susceptible to change, than the models depict. Perhaps it would be better to think more about the next 15 years, never mind 2050!

It is hard to get it right even so. Who now believes the GPER assumption that the oil price will be $106 by 2020 (and stay there)? It is $45 in November 2015. The difference has large consequences for all energy markets – but it does not have a strong influence on political decisions such as feed-in-tariffs or renewable certificates.

One advantage of modelling is, however, that it can optimize the use of resources, for example by avoiding building more power lines and storage than is really needed. If the world would follow the GPER recipe, it would save a lot of money. But don’t bet on a smooth transition!

Fredrik Lundberg
1. Also briefly presented in AN October 2015

Methane emissions fall for 3rd consecutive year — EPA

EnergyWire: Wednesday, October 7, 2015,

Greenhouse gas emissions from the oil and gas sector are on the rise, but methane leakage continues to fall, according to new U.S. EPA data.

Petroleum and natural gas systems emitted 236 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent into the atmosphere in 2014, up from 228 million metric tons CO2e in 2013, yesterday’s update to EPA’s Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program (GHGRP) shows. Methane emissions ticked down from 77 million metric tons CO2e in 2013 to 73 million metric tons CO2e last year, marking the third consecutive year that measurement has declined.

“The EPA expects that the GHGRP will be an important tool for the Agency and the public to analyze emissions and understand emissions trends,” EPA wrote in its oil and gas emissions profile.

It could also serve as the basis for regulations like EPA’s proposed methane rule (Greenwire, Sept. 29). The agency’s latest numbers seem to undercut its own claims that emissions could rise more than 25 percent without new federal controls, said Steve Everley, spokesman for North Texans for Natural Gas.

“EPA has claimed that without new regulations, methane emissions will go up,” he said. “What’s that based on?”

Reductions in methane emissions appear to be the result of existing regulation, and further cuts will be made possible only by additional rulemakings, said Matt Watson, associate vice president of the Environmental Defense Fund’s climate and energy program.

A table toward the bottom of EPA’s energy industry profile indicates that the bulk of emissions reductions between 2011 and 2014 came from gas well completions and workovers, a regulated source, he said.

“This data shows that regulations work, and promises of voluntary action don’t,” Watson said in an emailed statement. “The largest methane reductions come from a practice that is subject to national standards, while the biggest increases come from sources that remain largely unregulated.”

EPA cautioned that its data are limited. By the Environmental Defense Fund’s estimation, the data set covers about half of U.S. wells.

Building more landfills never an option

‘Building more landfills never an option’ shows the total lack of understanding of many HK people about incineration.

30% by weight of what is incinerated remains as ash, that has to be landfilled, ad infinitum. Moreover about 10% of that ash is highly toxic fly ash that has to be encased in cement. HK food waste 3600 m3 per day is ultra wet 90% water content with a calorific value less than 2Mj/kg whereas you need 7 Mj/kg for combustion.

Our daft Govt intends to burn the food waste, meaning accelerant needs to be added making incinerators a waste of energy , not waste 2 energy facility.

Using German test data, burning 1 kg of MSW releases 1kg – 1.2kg of CO2 into the atmosphere, as well as other toxic RSP’s. Interesting that the Environment chief expects to reduce CO2 emissions here on the one hand whilst intending to increase them on the other.

Incineration requires the MSW contacts the flame for at least 2 seconds at 850 deg C – if the waste is wet the burn temperature has to be increased or dioxins can & do form.

We have no source separation of waste legislation, we have no Zero Waste policy, Mass burn mixes batteries & plastics, it is impossible to recycle items tainted by food waste. Our sewer system has such capacity that Stonecutters could handle & treat our daily food slops if industrially garburated in a matter of minutes, a fact supported by CIWEM UK but conveniently ignored by local blinkered ENB officials.

Published on South China Morning Post > Letters to the Editor, August 27, 2015