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March, 2009:

Proper Debate Needed On Petrochemical Plant

SCMP – Mar 24, 2009

New guidelines for the development of the Pearl River Delta issued recently by Beijing say new petrochemical plants in the region should be built in the less developed east and west, away from population centres including Hong Kong. But Guangzhou city officials have continued to insist that a controversial oil refinery already planned for Nansha in the densely populated heart of the delta would pose no threat to the environment because it would have modern pollution controls. To make its point, according to sources, the city government has ordered that an environmental impact assessment due to be issued soon for public scrutiny should be played down.

This attitude and lack of transparency is worrying. Unlike Beijing’s guidelines, the assessment report dismisses widespread expressions of public concern, in Hong Kong, Macau and Guangdong, about the proposed location of an industrial complex that is potentially hazardous and polluting. There is no question the plant is of great economic importance to Guangdong. But it will deliver benefits to the province wherever it is sited. Guangzhou officials appear to be putting the city’s own interests first.

It is good, therefore, to see that dissenting voices are not being drowned out, although the debate is largely hidden from the public gaze. Last week, sources close to the project said it may still be relocated, perhaps to Zhanjiang, a port city in the far west of the province. Now, as we report today, the deputy head of Guangdong’s Environmental Protection Bureau has lent some official weight to that possibility. He said if the complex was to be built at Nansha it would need a favourable environmental impact assessment, reinforcing the impression the provincial government is considering moving it elsewhere. It is easy to see why it would be unwise to locate the plant in Nansha, even if it operated to the highest safety standards. First, the navigational channel to Nansha runs through the Pearl River estuary. Even with constant dredging to remove accumulating sediment, it is still too shallow for large oil tankers. The planned construction of a bridge linking Hong Kong, Macau and Zhuhai across the estuary will make navigation for big ships even more of a challenge. Second, in the case of an emergency, such as an oil spill from a tanker or a fire at the plant, the environmental fallout on nearby population centres could be disastrous.

The Pearl River Delta is one of the fastest-growing economic regions in the nation and the world. In terms of size of population, geography and economic profile, it is similar to the San Francisco Bay area in the United States. During its development into a manufacturing hub, the region’s environment has suffered colossal damage. Its future growth lies in developing the services sector and cleaning up its filthy air and water. What it does not need is an obnoxious petrochemical plant that might further adversely affect the region’s quality of life, real or perceived. By comparison, siting a petrochemical plant in the less densely populated and economically underdeveloped western parts of Guangdong would lead to more even development of the province.

The nation needs energy to maintain the pace of development. Environmental conflict over oil refineries, hydroelectric power stations and coal mines is inevitable. But it is disheartening to see local officials still pushing development at the cost of quality of life. The report on the environmental impact of the Nansha plant should be fully released so a proper debate on the pros and cons of siting it there can be held.

Introducing Natural Gas / Liquefied Petroleum Gas Buses And Heavy Duty Vehicles In Hong Kong – Feasibility Study

Source – EMSD

The objectives of this study are to assess the technical feasibility of introducing natural gas (NG) or liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) buses and heavy duty vehicles to Hong Kong with a view to improving air quality.

This study concludes that LPG/NG vehicles are not practicable for buses or heavy duty vehicles in Hong Kong because of the difficulties associated with developing the infrastructure for an entirely new fuel. Also, the resulting environmental benefits in reducing vehicle emissions and improving air quality are diminishing.

160 Green Cars On Way

Staff Reporter. SCMP – Mar 21, 2009

About HK$112 million will be spent to replace 401 government vehicles, or 6 per cent of the government vehicle fleet, in the next financial year, according to the Government Logistics Department.

The department said all 401 replacements would comply with the relevant emission standards.

About 160 cars and three buses will meet the Environmental Protection Department’s qualifying standards for tax incentives for environmentally friendly vehicles.

In a written reply to questions by legislators on expenditure estimates, the department said the replacement vehicles included 160 cars, 79 motorcycles, 70 vans, and some buses, four-wheel drives and trucks.

The department justified the spending by saying that it would not be cost-effective to maintain the existing vehicles, even though 355 of them could still be operated.

It also said the government would give priority to environmentally friendly vehicles when buying new vehicles and would also consider buying more electric vehicles when suitable models became available on the market.

At present, 612 of the government’s 6,303 vehicles are environmentally friendly.

They include 371 cars, 229 liquefied petroleum gas light buses and 12 electric scooters.

The government has placed orders for 230 environmentally friendly vehicles which are expected to be delivered this year and next.

CLP To Fire Up Cleaner Generator By Year’s End

Joyce Ng, SCMP – Mar 17, 2009

CLP Power (SEHK: 0002) will fire up its first upgraded lower-emission generating unit at its Castle Peak coal-fired power plant by the end of the year.

The upgrade is part of a programme aimed at meeting the company’s 2010 emission-reductions target. But the whole project, which requires upgrading of four such units, would not be completed until 2011, and the company would have to rely on other measures to meet its 2010 target, CLP Power commercial director Lo Pak-cheong said yesterday.

“We will also have to rely on the use of ultra low-sulphur coal and more natural gas consumption,” he said.

The project started in 2007 and was expected to “considerably” cut nitrogen oxides, sulphur dioxide and respirable suspended particulates emissions, a CLP Power spokeswoman said. She declined to give specific figures until the installations had been tested. Equipment is being installed in the boilers of Castle Peak’s four generating units to reduce nitrogen dioxides emissions during the coal-burning process.

Two limestone absorbers are being built near the coalfield to neutralise sulphur dioxide emissions.

CLP Power said the Castle Peak project would provide jobs for 500 construction workers by the middle of the year.

Under targets set by Hong Kong and Guangdong to improve regional air quality, Hong Kong’s two power companies are required by next year to reduce sulphur dioxide emissions by 54 per cent from 1997 levels, and nitrogen dioxide by 24 per cent.

The government has imposed emission caps on power plants and tightened them over the years to ensure targets are met. Castle Peak Power Plant’s licence renewal in 2007 required it to emit not more than 41,400 tonnes of sulphur dioxide and 27,650 tonnes of nitrogen dioxide in 2008. The caps this year are 39,400 tonnes and 27,300 tonnes.

Residents Struggle With Glare As Light Pollution Spreads To Tseung Kwan O

Cheung Chi-fai, SCMP – Updated on Mar 16, 2009

Light pollution has spread to the outskirts of the city, with hundreds of residents complaining about glare from excessive advertising lighting at a recently renovated shopping mall in Tseung Kwan O.

Residents of Yan Ming Court have been doing everything they can to block the light from the signs on the Metro City shopping mall, which faces the residential block.

Some have been keeping their curtains closed, and one resident has taken the extra step of placing a board next to his bed to block the light that still manages to seep through.

Local politicians and representatives of the green group Friends of the Earth have received numerous complaints since September last year, when the mall placed 12 brightly lit sign boards, each measuring about five storeys, around the mall.

The new fixtures replaced a collection of advertising banners that had been illuminated by spotlights.

When the mall was trying to find clients to rent the boards, the lights were left on until midnight. The mall eventually decided to switch them off at 11pm, but residents still found the glare too bright and wasteful.

“Some of the boards are located in places where few shoppers pass by,” Sai Kung district councillor Ng Ping-yiu said. “No one would ever look up at the boards when they are walking under them. The only audience is the residents who have to live facing them.”

Mr Ng said complaints had been filed with the Environmental Protection Department, though little could be done because there were no laws governing such lighting.

After repeated complaints, Henderson Land Development, which owns the mall, agreed to switch off the boards at 10.30pm. It also said it would consider decreasing the intensity of the light, though no changes have been made.

Mr Ng said he was worried that other malls in the district might adopt the mall’s lighting system as competition for shoppers intensified. He said he was hoping that a system for consultations and stakeholder meetings could be set up so residents and developers would have a chance to talk whenever new signage was being planned.

Cheng Sze-ling, environment affairs officer of Friends of the Earth, said the problem of light pollution was no longer restricted to developed and commercial areas such as Mong Kok or Causeway Bay; it had spread to residential areas in new towns. “Light pollution is no longer endemic but has evolved into an infectious disease across the city,” she said.

The group would organise a seminar for local politicians to help them understand light pollution and ways of handling it, she said. It would also publish a guide on the subject.

In response to press inquiries, a spokeswoman for Henderson Land Development said the company had studied dimming the glare by cutting the number of lights and would follow up on the findings shortly.

A spokesman for the Environmental Protection Department said the department had received eight complaints regarding light nuisances relating to Metro City mall. He said officials had been sent to the scene and had spoken to the mall’s owner to minimise nuisances.

“We have encouraged them to adhere to this arrangement and to consider using lamps that were less bright,” he said.

4 Clean-energy Plants Approved

Eric Ng in Beijing, SCMP – Updated on Mar 13, 2009

The central government has approved the construction of four clean-energy projects that could cost up to 19.8 billion yuan (HK$22.45 billion), as part of the country’s effort to reduce pollution.

The National Development and Reform Commission yesterday said it had given China Huadian Group the green light to build the 920-megawatt (MW) Luding hydropower station on Dadu River in Sichuan province.

It had also approved the construction of the 880 MW Dongqingshui hydropower project on Beipan River in Guizhou autonomous region by mainland-listed Guizhou Qianyuan Power.

China Huadian, one of the five state-owned generation firms, is the parent of Hong Kong and mainland-listed Huadian Power International Corp.

The top economic policy planner has also cleared the 100.5 MW second-phase wind farm development in Rudong, Jiangsu, by China Longyuan Electric Power Group, a unit of China Guodian Group – one of the five state power majors.

Huadian Power’s 100.5 MW Guyuan wind farm in Hebei province also gained approval.

An Asia utilities analyst said the cost of building hydropower plants in China ranges from 6 million yuan to 10 million yuan per MW, while that of wind power varied between 7 million yuan and 9 million yuan.

Based on these figures, the total investment cost of the four projects, with a combined capacity of 2,001 MW, could reach 19.8 billion yuan.

The National Energy Commission plans to build six large wind farm bases, each with more than 1,000 MW of capacity, in Inner Mongolia, Gansu, Xinjiang, Hebei and Jiangsu provinces and autonomous regions, according to Xinhua.

Inner Mongolia has the most ambitious plan, with 5,000 MW of capacity.

According to a long-term renewable energy plan released by the NDRC in mid-2007, Beijing wants to raise the country’s hydropower generating capacity to 190,000 MW next year and 300,000 MW in 2020, from 171,520 MW at the end of last year.

Wind power capacity is targeted to rise to 5,000 MW next year and 30,000 MW by 2020. Next year’s target has now been exceeded, as capacity stood at 8,940 MW last year-end.

Beijing aims to have 10 per cent of the national energy consumption coming from renewable sources by next year and 15 per cent by 2020. The ratio was 8 per cent last year.

The Electric Revolution

A budget promise to explore the use of battery-powered cars has raised hopes of a green future. Now comes the hard part

Sarah Monks – Updated on Mar 11, 2009 – SCMP

Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah’s pledge to explore a future for electric cars in Hong Kong came out of the blue for many listening to his budget speech last month. But not for Geoffrey Chen Pau-hsiu. The 30-year-old entrepreneur saw it as confirmation of a “blue ocean” business opportunity; in other words, a chance to create a market in Hong Kong that doesn’t yet exist for battery-powered cars – and the electric grid to charge them.

Mr Chen has met officials and transport industry players over the past nine months to promote the idea of electric cars. It’s a transport revolution he believes is coming sooner than most people think.

“We’ve been trying to promote awareness in government of electric vehicles [EVs] as a possibility not in a decade or two decades but really in the next three to five years,” said Mr Chen, director of Ergo, a company he co-founded a year ago and which stands for Electric Recharge Grid Operator.

He considers that Hong Kong, a prestige auto market, is “a natural” to lead Asia’s shift from cars with internal combustion engines to battery-powered “green” vehicles that move cleanly and quietly through the streets. Electric cars emit none of the carbon dioxide linked to global warming and produce no roadside air pollution. They also tend to be one-third cheaper to run than petrol-driven vehicles, according to the Climate Change Business Forum.

“If it works in Hong Kong’s urban environment, it’s going to work in Shanghai, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, all those other markets in China,” Mr Chen said. His plan is to help the city convert its 18,000 taxis to battery-powered EVs – and provide the charging infrastructure to support them.

“This is our `blue ocean’,” he said, referring to the best-selling business strategy book of the same name, for which he undertook research while studying for an MBA at Insead Business School in France. “The idea is to create new market space, or a blue ocean, beyond existing competition.

“If you think about what Shai Agassi is doing, I would say that we are kind of the Asian version, the Hong Kong home-grown version – obviously, a lot less well-funded.”

Mr Agassi is the Israeli-born founder and chief executive officer of Better Place, a venture started with US$200 million in 2007 to build a global network of electric car service stations that will exchange drained batteries for fresh ones.

Many people have been caught off guard by the world’s sudden focus on electric cars. Only three years ago a US documentary film, Who Killed the Electric Car, portrayed EVs as “murder” victims of “big oil” and car interests. Now a sequel – Revenge of the Electric Car – is in production.

Moving electric cars into the mainstream are a new generation of lithium-ion batteries, more efficient electric motors and improved design. It’s more important, now, to know the difference between hybrids like Toyota’s Prius, which combine petrol-fuelled conventional engines with electric motors; pure electric cars, which run on rechargeable batteries; and EVs, powered by hydrogen fuel cells.

A growing list of electric cars includes the Chevy Volt, Mitsubishi’s i MiEV, which is to have trials in Hong Kong, and MyCar, a “microcar” developed in Hong Kong with initial government funding.

In his budget speech, Mr Tsang announced he would lead a steering committee to study the wider use of EVs here. The government would look at jointly promoting them with car manufacturers and be “actively involved” in vehicle tests, “with a view to introducing electric vehicles into our market early”. It would also look at providing recharging facilities in government multi-storey car parks.

Environment Secretary Edward Yau Tang-wah, whose bureau is helping to deliver on the budget promises, says electric cars are a better alternative than the existing technology and more fuel-efficient than petrol-powered vehicles. While yet to drive an electric car, he recently visited BYD in Shenzhen, a Hong Kong-listed mainland battery and EV manufacturer. Its five-seat electric car, with a driving range of 400km on one charge, has caused a buzz in the auto world – along with US investor Warren Buffett’s 9.9 per cent stake in the company.

There were two reasons for promoting electric cars, Mr Yau said.

“Hong Kong is going to be a greener city and the EV is becoming a commercially available product in the next few years. Through the budget speech, we’ve sent a clear message to electric car manufacturers and the community that this is a real choice coming into reality. Hong Kong is willing to give it a trial. We’ll give all the support needed to allow EVs to prove themselves as the clean option.”

There are currently fewer than 100 EVs in Hong Kong out of more than 560,000 licensed vehicles. They include electric vans, cars, golf carts and service vehicles operated by the two power companies, the Airport Authority and Cathay Pacific and its subsidiaries. Some were introduced more than 20 years ago.

“EVs are nothing new,” Mr Yau said. “The question is, should Hong Kong be one of the earliest cities to take advantage of this commercially available new type of car, which suits our green agenda? Will we be receptive to this technology?”

Among the government’s first steps, Mr Yau said, was to remove any legislative barriers that might inhibit the use of EVs. That includes MyCar, which had originally been a left-hand-drive vehicle that could not be registered here, but now has a right-hand model.

“Having said that, there can be no compromise on safety or construction and maintenance [of EVs]. They have to demonstrate their roadworthiness, safety in particular,” he said.

Another early step was to provide a financial incentive to buy EVs which, like hybrids, can cost significantly more. The financial secretary extended from three to five years the exemption of first registration tax on such cars. It can be as high as 85 per cent of the retail price for smaller vehicles.

More essential, Mr Yau said, were support facilities for parking and charging EVs. There needed to be discussions with car park operators and property managers. There had already been early discussions with Hong Kong’s power companies.

“Obviously, you do not want premature technology to come to the city causing unnecessary disruption. At the same time, you don’t want to lose the momentum; to be the last city to consider this, because then you’re losing the golden opportunity to grow greener and cleaner.

“The real test is how to allow people to see the electric car running on the road instead of breaking down, to allow it to be tried out while we facilitate its entry into our market.”

Mr Chen believes the coming revolution in electric cars is part of people recognising that the present way of living, working and driving is unsustainable.

“We live in this carbon-constrained world and we’ve got to do something about it. The transport sector seemed a logical place to start. That’s why we formed Ergo. We really want to stop talking and actually do something about it.”

Focusing on taxis was an effective way to tackle roadside pollution, he said, especially if an EV conversion scheme for taxis could be extended to light goods trucks and other commercial vehicles. “If you get the taxis and the commercial vehicles, you’ve made a huge impact on roadside pollution. I don’t think you’ve solved the problem for Hong Kong, but you’ve made a very big difference to people’s lives.”

Research showed that the average taxi covered 360km a day, compared with 59km a day for the average car, Mr Chen said. “These guys are driving six times more than the average person. It’s true that the LPG they use is a lot less polluting than petrol but it is still a problem.”

Making it happen, however, will not be easy. “There’s a lot of risk. What if these cars don’t work? What if the batteries fail? What if the air con doesn’t work? All those questions have to be dealt with. Taxi owners and drivers need to be fully confident there won’t be any issues with the car and, if there are issues, that they’re going to be resolved quickly.”

Environment policy advocates and green groups say electric cars will help tackle Hong Kong’s bad roadside air but cannot go far or fast enough in addressing the problem.

“This technology on its own will not make much of a difference fast enough to protect public health, so this tells you other measures are needed,” said Christine Loh Kung-wai, co-founder and chief executive of think-tank Civic Exchange. “Banning old commercial engines [in trucks] is likely to have a much higher and faster impact, or more pedestrianisation. I am not saying e-cars are not a good idea, just that I would have gone for other measures now, for the sake of public health.”

According to Friends of the Earth, unless the government can attract heavy diesel vehicles to go electric, there will be little improvement in roadside air quality. Another concern is how to deal with the spent batteries of electric cars.

“We don’t want to cope with the air pollution problem by creating a waste issue,” said Angus Wong Chung-yin, environmental affairs officer of the green group. “The government should consider how to recycle the battery wastes generated by electric cars.”

Environment minister Mr Yau said the success of Hong Kong’s EV initiatives depended not just on the government doing its part but also on whether it could attract consumers, primarily private users.

He acknowledged that there was a further reason for targeting private users. “Obviously, from a selfish angle, electric cars would help my push to stop idling engines in Hong Kong …”

HK Regulations Pull The Plug On Electric Car

Cheung Chi-fai – Mar 03, 2009 – SCMP

An electric vehicle developed in Hong Kong will hit the European market this year, but it cannot be registered as a passenger car in its city of origin because it fails to meet design standards, the manufacturer said.

Europe, which recognises microcars as a category of vehicles, has already given the nod to the two-seater, battery-driven MyCar, which has been hailed as the first Hong Kong car made for export.

The car is expected to start selling in Britain for no more than HK$100,000 each.

But its debut in Hong Kong would not be possible unless the city also recognises microcars, said local company EuAuto Technology.

In his budget speech last week Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah unveiled plans to promote the use of electric cars in the city through tax concessions and by building a recharging infrastructure.

EuAuto Technology, which had developed the car with a total investment of about HK$70 million, including HK$2 million of initial funding from the government, had set up an assembly line in Shenzhen to manufacture the vehicles.

But Chung Sin-ling, the company’s chief executive, said local drivers had to wait longer to own the car because there was no way to register it in the city without greatly changing its unique lightweight design and lower maximum speed.

The car fully complied with European standards, she said. But it was unlikely to meet the existing requirements on structure and seat-belt designs for conventional private cars here, as well as pass crash tests.

A microcar is a light vehicle that weighs less than 400kg excluding battery, and cannot travel faster than 45km/h. In some European countries, the car is confined to intra-town travel and driving it on highways may be prohibited.

The car also would not be required to take a crash test in Europe.

Ms Chung said the company was willing to talk to the Transport Department about creating a new vehicle category – at an appropriate time – but she hoped the department would first issue more special licences to test the car in various locations, such as Discovery Bay.

Eric Cheng Ka-wai, a professor of electrical engineering at Polytechnic University, said Hong Kong should introduce a microcar vehicle class and relevant regulations to encourage the use of emissions-free cars like MyCar.

He said it was not reasonable to expect a small carmaker to meet all vehicle design standards that have been developed by major car manufacturers over past decades, especially when the car was designed for its environmental benefits.

“The car should have few safety problems, given that motorcycles are allowed on the road.”

The Transport Department said yesterday the MyCar could only be used at the MTR train depot in Siu Ho Wan under a special licence. But it refused to say if it was willing to change registration requirements for the car. “The car is not fully compliant to the requirements of the Road Traffic (Vehicle Construction and Maintenance) Ordinance and is still unsuitable for use on highways,” it said without elaborating.

More Thinking Needed On Electric Cars

Updated on Mar 03, 2009 – SCMP

Hong Kong should be an innovating city when it comes to electric cars. Our compact area, technology-savviness and obvious problem with air pollution are ideal draws. There is even a local company that has developed such vehicles. Yet they are not being sold or even driven in the city because of road regulations; in fact, there are only 31 private electric cars among the 400,000 on our roads. Given the stresses we are putting on our environment and in consequence ourselves, the situation is unacceptable.

The government has offered incentives for electric cars for 15 years. That tens rather than thousands are on our roads says much about the inducements on offer and the manner in which they have been promoted. It is good that authorities have woken up to the shortcomings and decided to get serious. Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah’s raising of the issue in his budget speech last week was the perfect forum to kick-start the process.

Mr Tsang extended the registration tax waiver for electric vehicles for another five years. He will head a body to smooth the introduction of models, while a government department will test them for suitability to our road conditions, and check battery performance. Moves will be made to determine where battery-charging stations should be located. These are long overdue moves and the pro-active stance has to be pushed with determination.

Education is central to such a strategy. Ensuring that the right vehicles are available and that they can be conveniently powered is essential, but valid reasons have to be given as to why we should buy them. The government has to lead the way by setting an example. It could show the virtues of electric-powered cars by converting its fleet; bus and taxi companies have to be convinced to follow suit.

The two-seat MyCar we report on in our City section today cannot be registered in Hong Kong because it does not fit into any of the transport department’s vehicle categories. – unlike in environment-conscious Europe. It is ironic that a Hong Kong-developed car is barred because the microcar concept is not recognised. This car may not be to everyone’s liking and its roadworthiness may mean restrictions as to where and how fast it can be driven. It is proof that when it comes to electric vehicles, authorities have to think about more than environmental-friendliness, incentives and education.

LED Street-Lighting In Finland

Golden DRAGON LEDs in first LED street-lighting in Finland

Semiconductor Today

After extensive testing, the Levi ski resort in Kittilä is to be the first district in Finland to install LED street-lighting.

The system comprises 64 Starium Dragon 60 luminaires from EasyLed Oy, each equipped with 60 Osram Opto Semiconductors Golden DRAGON LEDs fitted with oval lenses (3840 LEDs in total). The LED street-lamps consume just 41W, cutting energy costs for the local authority and, together with minimal maintenance requirements, leading to a payback period of just 4.5 years, it is reckoned.

“We were particularly persuaded by the excellent color rendering [with a color temperature of 5600K, similar to natural light], the vibration resistance of the light sources, and the freedom to create any luminaire designs thanks to the small size of the LEDs,” says EasyLed’s product development director Mika Nummenpalo. “The stability of the luminous flux and the ideal distribution of light with no scatter – and therefore no light pollution – were key factors in the decision to install LEDs,” adds Ari Tiilikainen, a lighting designer at Lite-Design. “Thanks to sophisticated thermal management, we were able to give the luminaires a modern low-profile design, as requested by the local authority,” he adds.

“The Starium Dragon 60 offers the best luminous efficacy and therefore the greatest potential savings,” reckons Jari Kinnunen from the Technical Department in the Kittilä authority.