Hong Kong’s dazzling skyline is iconic to all who visit. These buildings are powered by a huge amount of electricity, consuming 90 percent of the city’s energy.

The government has set ambitious targets to reduce its impact on the global climate. It wants its economy to become more energy efficient and emit less carbon gases. But existing energy-saving tech alone will not allow Hong Kong to meet these targets.

“We know very well that at the present moment, with current technology like LED lights, we may not be able to meet the quite aggressive target,” says Alfred Sit, Director of Electrical and Mechanical Services of the Hong Kong Government. “What we are doing now is to explore more innovative solutions.”

Renewable incentives

Hong Kong has two key targets it must meet. One is to cut carbon intensity by 65-70 percent by 2030 – a measure of carbon emissions for every dollar of GDP compared to 2005.

Local electricity generation is now the biggest emitter at 70 percent, according to Hong Kong’s climate change action plan. It plans to fade out coal-powered plants, which are the most polluting, and bring in more natural gas and non-fossil fuel sources.

Hong Kong is paying residents and businesses to generate their own solar and wind-powered electricity. They can sell power to utilities and get up to four times the usual electricity tariff, depending on how much they produce.

The programme was launched six months ago and utilities have received 3,500 applications. These are promising results, Sit says, and show that Hong Kong is on the right track. In the long-term, renewable energy sources will provide about 3-4 percent of its total energy demand, he adds.

Connected buildings

The other goal is to reduce energy intensity by 40 percent by 2025, compared to the 2005 levels. This is a measure of how efficient the economy as a whole is.

The government has launched a project to improve the energy efficiency of buildings, and will need “lots of data” to ensure they run at an optimal level, Sit says. Sensors on government buildings and public infrastructure, such as traffic lights and tunnels, will monitor their energy performance.

The data will run through a new system that will gather insights from across the city. “We need to use digital technology to connect those sensors to the central computer system. The central computer can process the big data to make good decisions,” Sit says.

Sensors and data are already helping some ageing government buildings like the Cultural Centre become more energy efficient, he adds. Air-conditioning eats into about 60 percent of the electricity bills of these buildings. Hong Kong is using two sources of data – expected crowds at different times of the day, and weather patterns – to ensure that air-conditioning is adjusted to the most energy efficient level.

Hong Kong has used up the most readily available technologies, and wants to work with local startups to build solutions that do not exist off-the-shelf. Sit’s department is running an initiative to match tech startups with problem statements from government departments on energy tech, he says.

Hong Kong has constantly forged new strengths in uncertain territory, and it will look to do the same to meet its goals against climate change.