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Room for Improvement: Energy policies improve building energy efficiency in Hong Kong
  • <p>“Engineers, energy efficiency assessors and registered energy assessorsnow need to be hired for large-scale building renovation works.”</p>
  • <p>“Engineers, energy efficiency assessors and registered energy assessorsnow need to be hired for large-scale building renovation works.”</p>

“Engineers, energy efficiency assessors and registered energy assessorsnow need to be hired for large-scale building renovation works.”

Mar 2015

The implementation of new policies often creates new opportunities. As the public of Hong Kong is increasingly concerned with environmental protection, the government launched the Buildings Energy Efficiency Ordinance, a set of mandatory energy efficiency codes and requirements for buildings, three years ago. Director of Southa Group Paul Chong Kin-lit urges engineering students to equip themselves and seize opportunities made possible by the new building regulation.

Buildings account for almost 90 percent of total energy consumption in Hong Kong. So, to combat global warming and climate changes, it is of utmost importance to drive down the energy consumption of buildings. In 2012, the government turned the initially voluntary energy efficiency registration scheme into a law, which lays out minimum energy performance standards on four areas, including lighting, air-conditioning, electrical and lift and escalator installations.

Mr. Chong, a long-time serving member of the Energy Advisory Committee, supports the regulation of energy efficiency of buildings. “It served as a guideline for the construction industry at first, telling them the standards to be followed when developers construct new buildings or conduct major renovations,” Mr. Chong said. “The construction industry had been following the guideline for a few years. They reached a consensus with the Electrical and Mechanical Services Department that it was time to make it mandatory. By that time, most of the new buildings had already complied with the minimum requirements, or even performed better in terms of energy efficiency.”

Lighting, air-conditioning, electrical and lift & escalator installations already constitute 80 percent of buildings’ energy use. Therefore, if the construction industry and building managements manage to lower the energy consumption in these areas, the effort will yield considerable energy savings. To Mr. Chong, it is easiest to cut down energy consumption of lighting, largely thanks to the LED technology. “LED lightings are much more expensive than incandescent light bulbs, but they are more durable. The cost of using LED lightings can be recovered within two or three years,” Mr. Chong said. “The law stipulates that only seven to 20 watts of electricity can be used in lighting per square metre, which can be easily achieved.”

Another low-hanging fruit is lifts and escalators. “A new type of variable voltage variable frequency (VVVF) elevators and escalators is now available. Developers can fulfil the requirements if they install such type of energy-efficient elevators and escalators,” Mr. Chong says. The ordinance clearly states the power of motors to be used for lifts and escalators of buildings of different heights. According to Mr. Chong, in the past, engineers used too powerful motors for lifts and escalators. The codified requirements had made it easier for them to follow, lowering energy waste.

Apart from hardware overhauls, there are engineering tricks that can make a huge difference. For example, air-conditioning uses the most amount of electricity. While replacing dated models with new, energy-efficient ones can be too great an investment, Mr. Chong points out that engineers can design placebo switches connected to a central control unit. No matter how occupants adjust the setting, the temperature will not go down, hence generating energy savings.

Mr. Chong’s successful engineering career spans four decades, and he became an engineer by chance. “There were two career choices for science students, doctors or engineers. I was more interested in mathematics, so it was a natural choice for me to become an engineer,” Mr. Chong said.

Apart from taking pride in his contribution to the public good by advocating energy efficient buildings, Mr. Chong derives great satisfaction from an array of ground-breaking projects. “In the 1980s, we built the indoor ice-skating rink in Beijing. At that time, it was the first rink in the mainland which trained generations of athletes. Before that, skaters could only train on frozen lakes during winter,” Mr. Chong said. “We also built a number of food processing plants in Hong Kong and mainland, like ice-cream and frozen seafood. These plants were instrumental in promoting the development of mainland’s food processing industry.”

To develop a successful engineering career, Mr. Chong encourages aspiring engineers to pay more attention to technological advancement, societal changes and government policies. The Buildings Energy Efficiency Ordinance is a good example which creates new jobs for the engineering industry. “Engineers, energy efficiency assessors and registered energy assessors now need to be hired for large-scale building renovation works. The ten-year compulsory energy efficiency audit also produces an abundance of job opportunities,” Mr. Chong said.

For engineers, it is also important to remember Hong Kong is a commercial society. When it comes to convincing developers or owners to invest in projects that improve energy efficiency, economic or other incentives are imperative. “Large corporations do not only consider profits; they also take things like corporate image seriously. You have to tell clients about such intangible benefits.” Engineering knowledge alone cannot make a successful engineer – street smart is also indispensable.

Engineering Discipline