Decarbonisation – The one and only ticket for an engineer (By Environmental Division)

"The truth about the climate crisis is an inconvenient one that means we are going to have to change the way we live our lives". Something you are familiar with? The statement is quoted from "Inconvenient Truth" authored by Al Gore back in 2006. The book reviews and discusses global warming issues and associated impacts on the environment, people and even the whole world. It also sets out a number of forward-looking strategies, actions and recommendations to combat climate change.

Nowadays despite that some people may find global warming and climate crisis not pressing at all, it is good to see that this topic has been widely recognised today. Many environmental conscious have started to consider "decarbonisation", a term that was not commonly used in the past, and to accept that lifestyle must be changed for a sustainable future.

As an engineer, how do we prepare ourselves for the transformation from a carbon intensive to a less carbon intensive or even carbon neutral society?  We may be aware that the transport sector is responsible for 18% of the carbon emissions and electricity generation contributes for 65%, in which 90% of the electricity consumption is for the buildings.  What should we do?

In 2019, the Council for Sustainable Development (SDC) conducted a public engagement exercise on the long-term decarbonisation for Hong Kong.  The SDC has identified three potential paths to decarbonisation by 2050, following on from the Paris Agreement: a 60% reduction over 2005, an 80% reduction or aiming for net zero carbon.  Amid the extreme weather conditions arisen in recent years, other developed countries and world cities are generally pursuing ambitious decarbonisation targets of 80% reduction or above.  Should Hong Kong also share its climate responsibility like other cities?  Should a 60% reduction only be considered as minimum for the initial target setting, with a long-term goal of uplifting it to 80% reduction?  Or even more if we grow our capability in various decarbonisation technologies and more commitment from the community?

Whether Hong Kong will adopt a reduction target of 60% or 80% or more, decarbonisation or more appropriate, deep decarbonisation will become both a challenge and an opportunity to all of us, as an engineer and it will drive many changes for our city.

While every individual’s lifestyle changes will help reduce the carbon footprint of our community, technological development is also an important enabler.  It will present a good opportunity for our engineering and environmental professionals especially the young generations to exercise their talents and skills in these aspects.  However, it needs more collaborations with different and wider disciplines as well as continual integration of innovative technologies and digitalization.

Let us review some of the areas for decarbonisation. For examples, what kinds of energy we use; how digitalisation and innovation can support us for energy management; when we can fully adopt the concept of circular economy; why we need to change our life style; etc.

Local renewable energy (RE) developments are well received by the public as well as the environmentalists, for example, the recent overwhelming RE installations under the Feed-in Tariff scheme.  However, these RE developments are unable to meet local electricity demand in terms of reliability, sufficiency, security and affordability in Hong Kong.  Then could we implement a multipronged approach and strategy to increase zero-carbon energy sources, including waste-to-energy, sustainable bioenergy, import of zero-carbon power from the Mainland, as well as support from emerging technologies such as zero-carbon hydrogen, energy storage, etc.?

On the other hand, could we provide more financial support for the transition towards new energy vehicles, particularly electric light duty vehicles and electric ferries.  With these mature technologies, we can speed up the development of infrastructure to facilitate the city’s electric mobility.  This would not only reduce carbon emissions but also roadside air pollution.  As electricity supply is further decarbonised, the carbon benefit of electric vehicle would be more prominent.

For existing fossil fuel power plants, could we upgrade or repower them to a higher efficiency and lower emissions plant with the latest development technologies and engineering solutions?  It is also critical to embrace technology and regulatory change with innovation, for example, by using big data, machine learning and artificial intelligence. Would the carbon capture and sequestration technology be the next challenge to our young talent engineers?

Should we continue to uplift the energy efficiency standards for new and existing buildings, implement green construction and change our life style with less carbon footprint?

Whether the future carbon reduction target in Hong Kong is 60% or more, the path for decarbonisation will be continued and become a new normal.  This no return transformation will be happening in a much broader scope of areas that we can think of, including engineering solutions, energy supply side management, demand side management, transportation, building, construction, and climate risk management.  However, these changes can be both a challenge and an opportunity.  Therefore, as engineers to prepare for the upcoming transformation, we need to collaborate with wider and different disciplines, understand more new aspects and, at the same time, learn how to embrace the Earth by integrating innovations and digitisation in our day to day work.

Written by the Environmental Division of the HKIE

We use cookies on this site to facilitate your ability to login for technical reasons. Cookie Policy