Net-Zero Framework towards Sustainable Northern Metropolis Development (By EV Division)

"Northern Metropolis" is an emerging hot topic. The Chief Executive John Lee has set his vision in the Policy Address 2022 that the Northern Metropolis will be developed as a new international innovation and technology (I&T) hub and has committed to providing high-level direct supervision to push forward this project at full speed. Meanwhile, the Government also announced the Hong Kong's Climate Action Plan 2050 earlier in 2021, which sets out the targets and strategies for achieving carbon neutrality by 2050 as the overarching goal.


Northern Metropolis development is a mega project to shape Hong Kong's future in the next 15 to 20 years, so it is meaningful to explore how carbon neutrality and sustainability can be fully integrated into the plan, and how to strike a balance between economic development and environmental protection from an engineering perspective.


The Northern Metropolis Development Strategy, announced in October 2021, is a development proposal across Hong Kong and the Mainland, covering a total area of 30,000 hectares. Within the metropolis, the Hong Kong-Shenzhen Innovation & Technology Park in the Lok Ma Chau Loop will be integrated to form the San Tin Technopole. It will provide 240 hectares for supporting research and development, as well as advanced manufacturing activities.


There is a growing consensus around the world that I&T has a pivotal role in tacking climate change. The European Commission has recently announced the Green Deal Industrial Plan with a view to support the fast transition of industry to carbon neutrality, as well as facilitating the financing of clean technology innovation, manufacturing and sustainable development. The question for Hong Kong is, as a densely built city, how can we speed up the development of smart green buildings by adopting innovative technologies throughout buildings' lifecycle?


In Hong Kong, buildings account for 90% of city's total electricity consumption and 60% of carbon emissions. In the context of net-zero by 2050 as targeted by the Government, scaling-up actions for decarbonisation appears as an urgent imperative. The decarbonising process should also take into account both energy consumption and construction materials.


In this regard, the Government, in concerted actions with all stakeholders, shall provide a comprehensive set of performance criteria of various sustainability standards including building materials, energy consumption and efficiency, retrofitting strategies (for existing buildings), water efficiency, indoor environmental quality monitoring, waste management and recycling, as well as monitoring and performance tracking strategy. As such, decarbonising requirements should be taken into account at all stages of new building construction (from planning, design to development and operation) with strict assessment, monitoring and audit system conducted by licensed third-party professionals. Embodied carbon of buildings should be reduced at source from construction materials in compliance with accredited standard building sustainability rating schemes in Hong Kong such as BEAM Plus, LEED, WELL, BREEAM etc.


Besides, the Northern Metropolis as an I&T hub is a perfect landmark to showcase how the green technologies developed by Hong Kong can be adopted and incorporated into the buildings. For instance, internet of things (IoT) sensors and building information modelling system and smart green devices can be used to monitor environmental and sustainability performance parameters. The performance data can be uploaded to cloud for users' on-going tracking and refinement based on the results.


On the other hand, under current rapid socio-economic development associated with increasing energy consumption in the Northern Metropolis and the city, it is necessary to push the development of renewable energy sources and nuclear energy (through regional collaboration) concurrently, as well as exploring the zero-energy building systems (such as sun transport systems) so as to achieve the net-zero in buildings by 2050.


To drive the development of green mobility in the Northern Metropolis, enhanced green energy alternatives such as hydrogen-fuelled vehicles should be explored in addition to electrical vehicles. A full decarbonisation plan for mobility (approaches in green vehicle technology, refuelling infrastructure, regulatory framework, and funding model) should be set up to address key challenges. In this regard, the Government and key stakeholders could engage in (i) setting an appropriate engineering roadmap and investment strategy in achieving a quantified modal shift target for green public transport; (ii) enlarging scale of trials for both battery and hydrogen fuel cell buses; (iii) removing the regulatory barriers for green technology development; and (iv) identifying areas requiring cross engineering actions for the relevant green transport infrastructure development.


We believe that Northern Metropolis could be an engine for the sustainable development of Hong Kong. However, this requires concerted actions of policy makers, urban planners, engineers and all key stakeholders to imperatively strike for the critical balance between economic development and environmental protection for a sustainable future.


By young engineers from the Environmental Division of the HKIE and The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology

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