Project No: 16601022

Title: Energy insecurity in Hong Kong’s vulnerable populations

Principal Investigator: Prof. Laurence DELINA

Co-Investigator: Dr. Ngar-yin Daphne MAH, Prof. Kim-Pong TAM


Pandemic lockdowns and Hong Kong’s unusually long, hot days and nights in 2020 have increased residential electricity use in the city by 8.7% compared to that of 2019. Energy demand, especially for cooling, will continue to increase with more frequent weather extremes. Vulnerable individuals, households, and social groups are at risk of being energy insecure in their homes or at the workplace. Energy insecurity refers to the lack of access to and inability to afford safe and sustainable energy, and exists across several forms of energy services, from lighting to cooking to cooling, as well as for powering medical and other health-related devices. However, the Hong Kong government has yet to recognize energy insecurity in its official statistics and energy policy. Knowledge is scant on the groups that constitute as Hong Kong’s energy poor, their spatial location, their intersectional vulnerabilities that lead to higher risk of energy insecurity, the overlapping impacts of energy insecurity on their wellbeing and dignity, and their coping mechanisms. With little attention focused on energy insecurity in the city’s research and policy landscapes, this proposed project will use mixed-method research to address these gaps. A survey dataset from a sample of 1,000 respondents from various vulnerable strata will be quantitatively analyzed using the energy justice framework, complemented with ethnographies and case studies, with attention to intersectionality. Energy justice aims to ensure that all individuals are able to access safe, affordable, sustainable, and modern energy services that allow them to maintain a dignified lifestyle, as well as to have the opportunity to engage in and lead in decision-making. The proposed project will adopt a multidimensional framework with four building units: vulnerability, impact, coping, and response. ‘Vulnerability’ includes the physical, socioeconomic, and climatic determinants of vulnerability that increase the energy insecurity risk of a particular individual, household, or social group. ‘Impact’ explores how energy insecurity threatens the financial, social, health, and environmental well-being of the identified vulnerable populations. ‘Coping’ describes how energy insecure individuals or groups produce their adaptive capacity via improvisation and implementation of extreme energy conservation measures. ‘Response’ normatively examines how policy and programmatic interventions can address, if not eliminate, energy insecurity. The study’s outputs will lead to novel insights that can provide inputs into future decision- and policymaking, aimed at recognizing and addressing this type of deprivation in Hong Kong and possibly in other similar dense urban areas in the world.