Hong Kong zero-carbon 2050 vision: time to talk details for peak energy efficiency

The ability to manage and research renewable energy is key. Hong Kong must catch up – or risk losing its competitiveness

In its 2021-2022 budget, the Hong Kong government announced that it would reserve HK$1 billion (US$129 million) for installing renewable energy systems. After Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor announced Hong Kong’s aim for carbon neutrality by 2050, the city has been considering plans to import zero-carbon electricity and increase local renewable energy production. Yet, discussions on how to manage increased renewable energy in the fuel mix are often neglected.

To attain carbon neutrality targets, both Hong Kong and mainland China will have to increase zero-carbon energy in their supply portfolios, with a significant portion of it from renewable sources. Switching from fossil fuels to renewable energy can introduce intermittency and supply reliability issues. Solar and wind energy generation depends on weather conditions, which can be variable. Needless to say, energy supply needs to be accurately matched with demand at every stage to ensure a stable supply.

To cope with an increasing share of renewable energy in the fuel mix, demand management and energy storage technology are crucial factors. Demand management can mean encouraging customers to use energy during off-peak hours, while storage options allow for excess energy to be used at later times.

Is mainland China ready for the renewable energy transition? From speaking to researchers at top universities in Beijing, I gather that demand management can be easily achieved through policies to mandate changes in energy consumption at different times of the day for different consumer groups. For Hongkongers, who are generally resistant to top-down policies, alternatives such as providing financial incentives through changing the electricity tariff structure could be considered, following negotiations with the two local utility providers.

Decarbonisation is not merely an environmental ambition, perhaps more importantly, it is a political statement of entering the global race of green technologies to reap the most economic benefits. Energy storage technology is key to balancing demand and supply for renewable energy. Different countries are competing to be the pioneers in this field.

Beijing’s Zhongguancun Science Park is seen as China’s Silicon Valley, while Hong Kong lags behind in green technology research. The Hong Kong government must ramp up its fiscal and human investment in green energy research to maintain the city’s competitiveness in a zero-carbon future.

Natalie Chung, MPhil candidate in Environmental Change and Management, Esther Yewpick Lee Millennium Scholar, University of Oxford (Feb 26, 2021)

Read more in SCMP letter article