Iceland, Paraguay and Costa Rica have transitioned their energy supply to 100% renewable sources and more countries are following suit. This transition plays a crucial role in achieving national goals and achieving net-zero emissions.
In Hong Kong, where renewable energy meets only 0.2% of the city’s total electricity supply, this is a lofty goal. It is unlikely that Hong Kong will be completely self-sufficient with clean energy in the near term, but strengthening our renewable energy base will help substantially transform the power sector, which accounts for 70% of Hong Kong’s greenhouse gas emissions, into a low-carbon energy mix. This then begs the question–what is Hong Kong’s potential for local renewable energy generation?
Waste-to-energy (WTE), solar, and wind are the only renewable energy sources viable for Hong Kong’s environmental conditions. WTE technology generates the majority of local renewable energy, via a sludge treatment plant (T-Park), an organic waste processing facility (O-Park), and captured landfill gas. The government has also commissioned a second organic resources recovery center and an incineration facility which are set to begin operation by 2022 and 2023 respectively, raising Hong Kong’s WTE capacity to 0.515TWh and meeting 1.1% of HK’s electricity demand. The government has earmarked further areas for future WTE facility expansion, though this is likely to incur resistance from neighboring residential communities for fears of pollution risks and not-in-my-backyard attitudes.
Solar energy production comprises several solar farms, the largest of which is at Siu Ho Wan Treatment Works, and many distributed small-scale systems. In 2017, the government began a feed-in tariff that has already incentivized 8,500 applicants to install solar panels on their properties. If all building rooftops were covered in solar panels, electricity output could be increased to 2.66TWh – 5.98TWh, equivalent to 5.9% – 13.4% of Hong Kong’s 2019 electricity use. However, the existing installation process is scattered with cumbersome regulatory hurdles, such as building code restrictions, that might discourage interested applicants. Some commercial buildings rooftops have alternative uses for air conditioning units and fire safety refuges. Current efforts are rather aimed at increasing individual PV systems, which will not lead to the large-scale solar coverage that said studies propose.
Wind energy production in Hong Kong at present comes from a single 800 kW wind turbine on Lamma Island. While all existing wind projects are onshore, both CLP and HK Electric have conducted feasibility studies into offshore wind farms and identified several suitable sites in the Southern Lantau and Southwest Waters regions. With four offshore wind farms, Hong Kong’s generation capacity could reach 11,280TWh, enough to provide 25.2% of electricity demand. Nonetheless, there are concerns that wind farm construction may damage the environment and threaten marine life.
Subsuming these estimates, renewable energy sources could provide for nearly half of Hong Kong’s total electricity needs, affirming that Hong Kong’s potential far surpasses the government’s goal of 3-4%. Unfortunately, Hong Kong is unlikely to achieve this potential in the short- to medium- term largely due to the previously laid-out financial and regulatory barriers. As of now, developing local renewable energy is not a pillar of Hong Kong’s transition away from coal, instead the government’s strategy focuses mainly on broadening the share of natural gas and increasing low-carbon energy imports.
Given that all newly taken investment decisions will create assets which will be in use through 2050, it is paramount that stakeholders, including power companies, the government, the public, and regional partners, cooperate now to determine suitable options which can guarantee carbon neutrality by 2050. Based on the selected 2050 options, corresponding nearer-term 2030 scenarios as well as detailed action plans up to 2050 can be developed. Ultimately, this close collaboration will improve the landscape for the growth of renewable energy–beginning by defining significantly more ambitious renewable energy targets.
Featured photo from Shutterstock
By Jamie Chan, Intern at Civic Exchange
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