Clear The Air Energy Blog Rotating Header Image

January, 2009:

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.

Beijing To Help Pay For Green Cars

Peggy Sito and Reuters – Jan 28, 2009

Beijing will subsidise purchases of clean-energy vehicles in 13 mainland cities in a move to encourage carmakers to build environmentally friendly vehicles.

The trial scheme would promote the use of electric, hybrid and fuel-cell vehicles by public transport operators, taxi companies and postal and sanitary services in the cities, Xinhua reported, citing a Ministry of Finance statement at the weekend.

The 13 cities are Beijing, Changchun, Changsha, Chongqing, Dalian, Hangzhou, Hefei, Jinan, Kunming, Nanchang, Shanghai, Shenzhen and Wuhan.

Subsidies would be based on the price difference between vehicles with more energy-efficient engines and those with traditional engines, Xinhua said.

Local governments were asked to allocate money to build and maintain facilities for the green vehicles. The announcement is in line with the central government’s plan to promote the development of vehicles using alternative energy.

In November last year, Minister of Science and Technology Wan Gang said the government would launch a massive scheme to promote such cars. Ninety per cent of public vehicles would be hybrid initially, he said without giving a time frame.

China is widely believed to be the biggest source of carbon dioxide and greenhouse gas emissions from its manufacturing, energy and transport sectors, which have been blamed for rising global temperatures.

The central government is urging carmakers to take advantage of a reshuffle in the global car industry to speed up the development of vehicles running on alternative energy.

Local and global carmakers started to invest in green car manufacturing during the 11th Five-Year Programme lasting until next year.

Separately, Honda Motor, a pioneer in environmentally friendly cars, said yesterday it planned to increase its production capacity on the mainland by 23 per cent on expectation of solid demand for its fuel-efficient vehicles, according to a report.

The Nikkei business daily said Honda targeted a total output capacity of 650,000 vehicles per year by making multibillion-yen modifications to existing lines at its Dongfeng Honda Automobile unit, which assembles Civic cars and CR-V sport-utility vehicles.

Output at Dongfeng Honda on the mainland has steadily risen in recent years, producing more than 160,000 vehicles last year, up almost 30 per cent from the previous year, another company official said.

The company is hoping to raise its output to a full capacity of 240,000 vehicles, bringing Honda’s total mainland output to 650,000, she said.

The mainland vehicle sector grew 6.7 per cent last year. While outperforming developed nations, the rate was the country’s slowest in a decade and a sharp fall from 21.8 per cent the year before.

Jiangxi To Build Waste Power Generation Plant – January 22, 2009

Nanchang Municipal City Appearance and Environment Management Bureau has signed an agreement with Hong Kong-based Baimashi Green Energy Investment Company to build a waste-burning power plant in Nanchang, the capital city of Jiangxi.

This is reported by local media to be to be the first project of its kind in Jiangxi province.

The construction of the project, which is called Nanchang Quanling Waste Generated Power Plant, will commence at the first half of 2009 with a total investment of about CNY480 million. The project is scheduled to be completed in two years and to have a daily production capacity of 108.3 megawatts.

Featuring advanced waste burning and pollution control technology, Nanchang Quanling Waste Generated Power Plant can effectively control water, gas, and noise pollution during waste burning, and will consume waste from surrounding areas including Jinxian county, Nanchang county, and Qingyunpu district.

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

Electric Vehicles Are China’s Imperative

SCMP – Jan 17, 2009

China does not usually attract much notice at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. But mainland carmaker BYD has caused quite a splash at the annual car show this week. As we report on our Motoring page today, it is showing a purely electric car with a driving range, on a single charge, of 400km. This puts it on par with some of the world’s major manufacturers, such as Ford, GM and Toyota, all of which are, belatedly, introducing their own electric cars in North America.

The success of BYD, in which world-famous investor Warren Buffet holds a substantial stake, shows what many have argued about China: because it is developing so many industries and building new cities, it is in a much better position to quickly adopt clean and green technology than many developed economies.

At the moment, however, the signs are not good. The nation’s transport boom is posing a growing challenge to the environment. More than 84,800km of highways are being laid across the country. The number of cars on its roads grows by 14,000 every day. By the end of the next decade, the mainland will have 130 million cars. At current rates, the number of cars on its roads will exceed the number registered in the US sometime between 2040 and 2050.

The nation must start promoting hybrid and electric cars, otherwise vehicles will surpass coal-fired power stations as the biggest source of air pollution. But China can have a greener future. As the major oil companies and most carmakers are state-owned, it is much easier for the central government to make them launch, by fiat or administrative means, initiatives in the use of alternative energy and environment-friendly vehicles. Unlike Hong Kong, where relatively few people own cars, the mainland has a potentially large market and the necessary economies of scale to make “green” car production commercially viable. As highways are built, service stations mushroom. This provides an opportunity to establish a nationwide service infrastructure – with chargers for electric-car batteries and battery-replacement services. Already, several big cities have experimented with electric buses and minivans, but they have not made the transition to mainstream service. Municipal authorities should be given incentives to do so.

China has an opportunity to set itself up as a pioneer in electric vehicles. Indeed, given the worrying levels of its pollution it has no other choice.

Kwai Chung College Gives Green Light To Solar Power

Colleen Lee, SCMP – Jan 17, 2009

A secondary school in Kwai Chung is to go green and use solar energy to power lighting on two of its floors from April.

Wong Shiu-hung, principal of the Kwai Chung Methodist College, said he expected the initiative to cut about 30 per cent of the school’s electricity bill of more than HK$300,000 a year.

“I hope the project can be tied up with the studies of physics, geography and integrated science as it involves environmental protection and the conversion of the sun’s energy into electricity,” he said.

“Students and visitors can see how it works and learn more about solar power.”

He said exhibition boards would be put up to explain the application of solar energy and how common it was in the city.

Mr Wong said that by training students to act as guides, he wanted to arouse pupils’ interest in and public awareness of green power.

The project was funded by the government under the Environment and Conservation Fund at a cost of HK$499,728.

The Legislative Council’s finance committee injected HK$1 billion into the fund last year to support green projects by local non-profit making groups, including schools.

Mr Wong said 36 solar panels, measuring 136.5cm by 98cm each, would be fitted on the roof of the school’s old wing by early April to convert light from the sun into electricity. He said these could power the lighting of the upper two floors of the four-storey building. The lighting of corridors and 16 classrooms would be supplied by solar energy on sunny days and by CLP Power (SEHK: 0002) on other days, he said.

The operating cost of the facility was low and its eight batteries, at about HK$2,600 each, would need replacing about every seven years.

A weather station would also be set up on the roof to measure the temperature and humidity.

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.”