Small changes, big differences

Can Hong Kong go Smart with new energy saving technology?

You may not have heard of the"Smart Grid" project, but some Hong Kong citizens are now experiencing an "environmental revolution" brought by the plan as they can know their electricity consumption.

The "Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) Pilot Scheme", organized by The CLP Power Hong Kong Limited (CLP), is the first "Smart Grid" project of the company that aims to allow people make better decisions on electricity consumption and in turn achieve a greener lifestyle. The 18-month long trial starts from the beginning of this year, and more than 5,000 residents from private and public housings and a thousand small to medium-sized enterprises are participating in the project.

To inform citizens about the amount of energy they have used, a small measuring meter is installed in their houses and provide users information on energy usage and tips to lower energy consumptions. An alert signal will also be sent to the participants if their energy usage has reached a high level. If citizens want to find out more, they can read them through web portal or download a "CLP Hong Kong App" to their smartphones.

And to better educate and promote the advantages of this new technology to citizens, the power company has also set up the first Smart Grid Experience Centre in Hong Kong in 2011.

The "Smart Grid" technology was first mentioned by the president of the United States of America, Mr Barack Obama. The goal of using this technology was to reduce electricity bills in different households, as users are differentially charged for electricity consumption during peak hours and off-peak hours of demand in America, and as a result to reduce greenhouse gas emission. Since its introduction in 2009, several countries and regions, including Hong Kong, welcome the plan and have started their own research on the project.

Appealing as the new meter may sound and though the goal of the pilot scheme is different from that of the American project, some wonder if the installation of such gadget with Smart Grid technology will lead to health problems.

Dr Mah Ngar-yin, a Smart Grid researcher, finds that the smart meter could emit radiation that cause sleeping and emotional problems. But, so far there is no scientific proof that can confirm Dr Mah's finding.

She even points out that some foreign citizens dislike Smart Grid because of the inaccuracy of the meter charges and related privacy issue.

Yet, Dr Josie Close, a practising architect and an Smart-Grid-advocate, disagrees with Dr Mah's view on health and privacy for there is no solid evidence to prove their doubts on the technology, and she adds the possibility of leaking one's private information is higher through online purchase.

Instead, Dr Close emphasizes the compelling need for Hong Kong to implement Smart Grid technology as the city has serious air pollution, of which it has caused a few thousand premature death and a loss of HK$39 billion last year, according to the University of Hong Kong.

"It is well aware that the Hong Kong community is extremely discontent with poor air quality, while the electricity expense is getting more expensive," Dr Close says. "Actions must be taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and help consumers through detailed metering to understand their pattern of consumption and thus control their own electricity use."

However, she does not believe the CLP's pilot programme could facilitate the development of Smart Grid technology as there are only two electricity suppliers, CLP and The Hong Kong Electric Company in the city. They provide electricity without price variation during peak hours or off-peak hours of demand, a situation that contradicts the initial goals of the project which aims to reduce electricity bills.

She says the monopoly of electricity suppliers is the barrier to launch Smart Grid in Hong Kong.

"[There is] no opportunity [for users] to change to another electricity supplier, to reduce our bills through differential tariffs, nor an easier way to generate electricity from renewable energy sources," Dr Close says.

Her concern is reiterated by Mr Ip Chi-man, the chief secretary of an environmental organization, Green Future, who is aware of price inflexibility that might hinder the full implementation of Smart Grid technology in the territory.

"The biggest motivation for foreign users to use Smart Grid is that they know the various power charges in different usage hours, so they can alter their consumption habit according to the price," Mr Ip says. "However, the current market structure (controlled by two power companies) in Hong Kong does not allow us to do so."

He adds that a market structure reform is needed if Hong Kong is to launch Smart Grid and the government should take initiative in promoting the technology.

"Even if the local market structure cannot be altered within a short period of time, the government can set up laws to "force" the two suppliers enforce Smart Grid,"he says.

Though there are challenges ahead, he thinks Hong Kong is on the right track in creating a greener environment.

"There is a long way to go, but it is definitely the right way," Mr Ip says.

 

Reported by Andrew  Wan

Edited by Kris Lui

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