Last week the Norwegian University of Science and Technology hosted the biennial International Summit Energy Summit (ISES) in Trondhiem, Norway which attracted 400 students from 64 countries. This event is held on behalf of the non-profit organization Student Energy and is organized for students by students. It focuses on sustainable resource management and the role that students will play in defining the future of energy supply and demand.
But these college-aged individuals didn’t meet alone. They attracted 70 speakers that included world leaders like Connie Hedegaard (European Commissioner for Climate Action), Ambassador Richard H. Jones (Deputy Executive Director, International Energy Agency) and Lord John Gummer (Chairman, UK’s independent Committee on Climate Change). United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-Moon even issued a personal statement of support.
The summary video below gives a brief overview of what went down:
Young energy leaders are key
The bottom line is “students have a pivotal role to play […], these are the generations that are going to have to face the perfect storm of the pressures of globalisation (growth in consumption, quality of life, human rights) pushing up against more stresses in the Earth system (climate change, biodiversity loss, ocean acidification…) head on.” That’s a quote from David Addison, a Student Energy supporter who works for the Virgin Group where he manages Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Earth Challenge: offering a $25,000,000 prize for scalable and sustainable ways of removing GHGs from the atmosphere. He’s also involved with some of Virgin’s bigger People and Planet projects in relation to existing businesses, and also the occasional Special Project.
So these students are organizing, not to protest and cause social mayhem, but to contribute to groups like Student Energy to advocate for and develop solutions. It is clear to the Student Energy leadership, for example, that lots of relevant decision makers and stakeholders in the energy sector aren’t acting or can’t act for whatever reason, instead they see these leaders as just pursuing a very depressing ‘business as usual’ scenario. However, the Student Energy movement is attracting these educated, driven, pragmatic and optimistic young professionals that are coming out of their studies being immensely clued in about the seriousness of solving these complex problems; and also how to embrace and overcome the complexities of the obstacles.
They are tackling topics like the feasibility of moving towards smart cities using existing technology. Connie Hedegaard, the European Commissioner for Climate Action, points out that the young generation is telling leaders “‘if you don’t do this, we know who will inherit a very, very big debt; we can not accept that, and here are the solutions and the expectations that you are actually delivering the policy framework that we need.’”
Leading by example
In addition to established world leaders sharing their perspectives and stories there were also alumni of past ISES events contributing to the agenda and demonstrating the vast potential of our youth. Manuel Wiechers (26), Co-founder and Director with Iluméxico, told me how his social enterprise has installed over 2000 solar home systems in more than 120 communities in México, as well as 20 schools and other projects related to infrastructure for development – all since 2010.
Ryan Dick (29), President and CEO of Radical Energy (and former ISES alumni), has also been doing some amazing things in the solar space. His organization is currently finalizing the development of its 20 megawatt (MW) Solar Connection SA Project in the Andes mountain range of Ecuador which is located alongside the 30 MW Solar Connection SA Project in the province of Pichincha. Scheduled to begin construction in the fourth quarter of 2013 and fully operational by the end of 2014, the Solar Connection Project will serve the demands of approximately 41,000 local homes.
It’s quite evident that the young individuals that are a part of this growing movement are tackling the issue of how to transition to a sustainable energy future. They cite no silver bullets, but rather a large repertoire of existing solutions that can help catalyze this important shift. Their passion is contagious and they are determined to lead together to realize this desirable and sustainable future.