Energy, Sustainability and Resource Management


Thirty years ago, the United Nations’ Bruntland Commission defined sustainable development as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”. This tension between present and future, in a region that experiences rapid economic growth, is central to the research activities of the Energy, Sustainability and Resource Management cluster. The research cluster’s questions relate to the sustainable use of natural resources, and are associated with considerations of governance, policy, public participation, socio-economic conditions and cultural levers. The research cluster has a regional focus on China and other East and Southeast Asian countries.

Featured Research

GRF Project (PI: Dr Kevin Lo) Decentralized climate governance and policy implementation in China: Unraveling a paradox

A multi-case and multi-site comparative climate governance study aiming to identify and explain patterns of climate policy implementation in China.

Although China is an authoritarian and unitary state, its governance system has become increasingly decentralized. This project involves the development of new conceptual tools and the rigorous collection of data through a comparative approach to study climate policy implementation in China. The main contribution of the project is to improve our understanding of China’s climate governance. Based on this knowledge, we can make sound practical recommendations to improve China’s climate mitigation performance from a policy and governance perspective.

PPR Project (PI: Dr Daphne Mah) Engaging the community to develop a model for sustainable energy futures: A case study of two prospective solar communities in Hong Kong

An interdisciplinary, scenario-based research project, involving a comparative study of two prospective solar communities to understand the potential of solar communities as an energy transition pathway in Hong Kong.

Urban solar has become a global trend as solar photovoltaic (PV) costs continue to decline and policy-makers seek effective post-Fukushima climate/ energy strategies. Community-based solar initiatives have emerged in many major cities including Seoul, Tokyo, Singapore, London, and New York. The imminent introduction of a renewable energy feed-in tariff (REFIT) policy in October 2018 presents opportunities to realise the underexploited solar PV potential in Hong Kong. This, however, raises various questions: Are solar communities a viable energy option for Hong Kong? Can Hong Kong pursue sustainable energy futures that partly depend on solar communities? What can Hong Kong learn from the experience of leading PV cities elsewhere? How can Hong Kong manage the technical, economic, and socio-political and institutional challenges to solar development, including the new opportunities offered by the REFIT policy?
This is a one year, interdisciplinary, scenario-based research project, involving a comparative study of two prospective solar communities in Yuen Long and Tai Po. The potential of solar communities as an energy transition pathway will be analysed by tracking and explaining the ex ante and ex post responses of prospective solar households and solar-powered schools in response to the introduction of the REFIT policy. A policy model will be developed to examine, and explain how and to what extent community inputs in solar development can contribute to energy transitions (from envisioning, community leadership, experimentation, networking, social learning, to scaling up niche innovations) and to each stage of policy-making for the new REFIT policy (from agenda setting to policy formulation, implementation, monitoring and to evaluation).

The study will be based on data collected from a sample of approximately 100 households and four schools from the two case communities as well as other relevant stakeholders. Face-to-face interviews, deliberative and engagement events (involving interactive online solar maps, scenario narratives, deliberative workshops (small groups and plenary group discussions), and a Hong Kong wide public opinion survey will be utilised to generate an extensive original database. A multi-disciplinary research team will be assembled to integrate expertise in the fields of energy policy and governance, solar resource assessment, geographical information systems, and deliberative participation.

Project outputs will include a guiding model for engaging communities in solar development, a guide book of solarized communities, two working papers, and two papers in top-tiered journals. The project will also contribute to enhancing energy literacy in Hong Kong and promoting rational debates about local energy options and transitions.

Digital Scholarship Grant (PI: Dr Kevin Lo) HK Solar Map: A GIS web application for rooftop photovoltaics

The Hong Kong Solar Map is a web-based GIS application that Hong Kong residents can use to learn about the potential for solar PVs on their buildings and across the city.

The Hong Kong Solar Map is a web-based GIS application that Hong Kong residents can use to learn about the potential for solar PVs on their buildings and across the city. The main feature is a solar calculator, which takes usable area as an input and generates the following outputs: potential PV capacity, annual electricity generation, annual electricity bill savings, total cost of the system, payback period, and carbon emissions reduction. Furthermore, the calculator can also estimate the impact of net metering and feed-in tariffs on payback periods.

Featured Publications

Studies of energy poverty have proliferated around the world. While the existing literature provides significant insights into the drivers and dynamics of energy poverty in some parts of the world, there remains little evidence from Asia – a region that combines rapidly changing developed urban conurbations alongside widespread rural poverty. This paper explores a case study of energy poverty in Hong Kong – a global city with high levels of inequality and housing precarity. To date, there has been no published academic work on this topic in the Hong Kong context, and little work in urban Asia. This paper draws on documentary analyses and interviews to present three narratives around the emergence and manifestation of energy poverty in Hong Kong: (a) energy systems, markets and policy (b) urban poverty and inequality and (c) energy services and cooling. By reading energy poverty ‘through the city’, the paper emphasises the importance of geographically sensitive accounts and proposes an agenda for future research. It thus enables the study of energy poverty to be productively pursued in the context of Hong Kong and urban Asia more broadly.

Urban community solar energy initiatives have flourished around the world, suggesting that community energy can be an important pathway for energy transitions. The deployment of solar energy has however remained limited. The complexity of these community-level transition processes has not been well understood and conceptualised. By advancing studies on community energy and socio-technical energy transitions, this paper proposes an integrated framework to conceptualise community-level energy initiatives from a systemic perspective. The framework builds the linkages among five critical processes and their associated contexts and outcomes, and is applied in a comparative study of two cities in Asia: Foshan and Seoul. Based on 19 semi-structured interviews in the case cities, this study has three major findings. First, the two cities’ solarisation pathways exhibited similarities as well as differences that could be understood within our conceptual framework. Second, distinctive modes of community solarisation can be identified in the two cities. Foshan was a mixed mode which was characterised by a combination of top-down, state-led and entrepreneur-driven approaches, whereas Seoul developed a bottom-up grassroot-driven transition. Third, the actual impacts of community solarisation on regime shifts appeared to be very modest, but we identify important reinforcing effects between some processes and local contextual factors. This paper concludes that community energy can play an important role in urban energy transitions, but that sufficient policy attention must be given to complex interactions in the critical processes.