After my May 22 op-ed on the government public consultation for the future development of the electricity market, I discovered that few green groups are campaigning for the reform of the electricity market. Two key demands of the campaign are to make the local power generators more responsible for power saving, and to provide easy access of individually-generated renewable energies to the grid.
These sound good. However, their logic does not appear right to me.
First, the campaign does not outline the rationale behind having power companies bear the responsibility for the power consumption of the territory. Remember, power companies generate electricity only to meet the demand of the public, and the public is never obliged to consume all the electricity generated by the power companies.
If Hong Kong corporately embraced power saving, government and property developers would adopt cutting edge approaches in building energy conservation, such as green-roofs, proper insulation, and proper city planning, to reduce the air-conditioning loading. Currently, buildings in Hong Kong spend millions of dollars and emit tonnes of green-house gases on AC every day, due to the poor insulation of buildings and “hot island effect” caused by hasty urban planning.
Power companies are passive in steering solutions to these, and they will only adjust their investment on assets where the electricity demand falls consistently and sustainably. Pointing a finger at power companies in power saving does not look helpful at all.
Moreover, Hong Kong is fortunate that its power companies have adequately and sufficiently prepared to avoid black-outs due to high demand on the grid. Their power stations are big enough to always meet the demands.
Reliable electricity, upon which the success of Hong Kong is based, is worthwhile and necessary. It’s based on the needs of power from the public. If there was no demand, the power companies would have no reason to expand. The burden of power saving, therefore, falls on the user and not the producer for the electricity market.
Secondly, at any time individuals may generate renewable electricity for their own consumption and sell the excess to the grid, provided the requirements of grid connection are properly met. These requirements are strict, because behind the scenes there are sophisticated operations in system control, managing power generations to meet the demand at real time. For fairness and consistency, the same rules are applicable to all, even though individuals may find them difficult to comply with.
This also explains the high entry level of the power industry. Unless many stringent requirements are satisfied simultaneously – which is very capital and time consuming – any unregulated power supply would only jeopardise the reliability necessary to keep Hong Kong in lights. It simply makes little sense to blame others because one is unable to do it with his own limited might.
In fact, renewable energies are economically viable if they are produced in scale. Small families and stand-alone enterprises having a tiny wind turbine and few solar panels installed are often unable to compare and compete with power companies which invest in large-scale generation such as offshore wind farms. Thus the power companies have the responsibility to leap into green power generation, subject to the consent of the general public. The question is whether the public is prepared to pay more for more green. If not, then it makes little sense to complain that there are not enough renewable energy sources.
Green is always good; but let’s be reasonable in pointing the way forward.