by John A. Herbert
Great news from Beijing, mark your diary, on 20 March 2017, RTHK (www.rthk.org.hk) reported that “….the last large coal-fired power plant in Beijing has suspended operations, with the city’s electricity now generated by natural gas” LINK: http://news.rthk.hk/rthk/en/component/k2/1320043-20170319.htm Meanwhile here in Asia’s World city, burning coal for power generation continues.
Electricity is a necessity for Hong Kong’s high-density living, I don’t imagine anyone would live on the 65th floor of a tower block without a lift, we almost take it for granted. However, the business model has to change. Power generation is not an efficient process, most of the fuel energy is lost during generation, transmission, or inefficient usage.
Electricity charges are relevantly speaking cheap, and where the whole cost + profit can be passed over to the tenant there is little financial incentive to drive energy improvements, and this limits our options to pursue cost and carbon reductions, except for the rare case of owner/occupier where the business could simply and significantly improve the bottom line.
And we have to remember also the context, starting in 2000, Hong Kong relieved the water restriction, permitting the installation of cooling towers for air conditioning. Huge savings were promised, with a reduction in greenhouse gas emission by 950,000 tonnes annually . And so far those promised savings have had little impact, from the chart below, since 2000 since the Territories GHG footprint has increased unabated  whereas one would expect accumulated recurrent energy and carbon savings.
This is the key point I raised in the EU position paper on the topic  in 2016, those cost savings created by switching over to water cool air conditioning (cooling towers) dramatically lowered the energy costs, shopping centres, as an example, could reduce the air conditioning electricity bill by 50%, but few tenants report dramatically lower bills.
The issue is particularly concerning since pollution, as experienced in Beijing in recent years, damages the economy, yet conversely, from boots on the ground energy auditing, I know that the energy improvement “work” to lower costs could be very simple and low cost but only if, and that is a big if, the owner is prepared to pay experts to undertake the necessary analysis.
If you are sick, try asking your Doctor for a fixed price quotation before seeing the patient, it is same for sick buildings, some buildings have fewer energy defects than others, and who can predict ahead of time how much time (and hence fees) will be needed to conduct a thorough exam.
The daily chart above provides spectacular results! Any piece of electric equipment, particularly large air conditioning chiller, switching off and on all day long as discovered in the above chart (technically called it Hunting). It is a map to significant cost savings, lower electricity consumption means lower transmission losses, and power stations burn less fuel, in turn, providing environmental benefit for Society.
There are other challenges too, Hong Kong is a small territory, and technical equipment, such as control valves, are imported. When a failure does occur, there is no local stock, requiring ordering with long lead times. Given the spares difficulty, you might imagine that equipment maintenance would be a high priority. Unfortunately not, deferred maintenance is a common energy audit finding, systems can be kept operating, inefficiently for many months with faulty equipment in place, whilst awaiting approval of the budget.
I have only touched upon the various issues, and one thing is clear, we need a policy framework to help incentivize energy saving where stakeholders and the whole community benefits.