As we head into another back-to-school season, we take pause to appreciate today’s youth - they are brave, bold, and brimming with potential. They are quite literally our future.
Not only do young people offer a fresh perspective, many of them are also passionate about making a difference in the world. These qualities couldn’t be more valuable as we strive for a sustainable energy future - something our world needs more than ever. However, part of the challenge for young people around the world is finding a platform from which their voices can be heard and valued.
Thankfully, when it comes to the energy sector, climate change, and what’s in store for the future, an organization by the name of Student Energy seeks to bridge that gap. Student Energy is a global youth-led not-for-profit organization that strives to empower young people to accelerate the sustainable energy transition. They connect young people to global changemakers and provide them access to decision-making spaces so that they have opportunities to influence their energy future.
But what exactly does a sustainable energy future mean?
Shakti Ramkumar, Director of Communications & Policy at Student Energy says that “a sustainable energy future is one where our global energy system is designed to support people and communities to thrive through clean, affordable and reliable energy.”
A future like this will require out-of-the-box thinking, dedication, and collaboration. As the world faces tremendous adversities, including a global pandemic, it can be difficult to look past those issues, let alone to envision a truly sustainable and thriving world. But, what if there were practical steps we could start taking now?
Shakti believes there are and that even small steps could have major restorative impacts on our future. In May 2021, during an interview for Hydro Ottawa’s ThinkEnergy Podcast, she shared three call-to-actions on how we all can begin working towards a sustainable energy future.
- Support intergenerational collaboration and diversity
According to Shakti, a sustainable energy future will require strong intergenerational collaboration and diversity. Young people offer incredible opportunities for change with their new ideas and verve, but it’s the older generations who have set up the energy system as it is now and possess invaluable skills, experience and decision-making power. Younger generations are relying on them to learn from and grow.
As we posture for a transition to clean energy, Shakti urges us to “recognize the importance of young people and to invest in them. Young people will be the ones to work in the energy system of the future. And we need to bring in young people who have historically been excluded from the energy space.” Diversity in age, gender and culture are what will drive this transition.
- Leverage technology that already exists
Some good news is that there are already many solutions that exist for helping us achieve a sustainable energy future - they are simply underleveraged.
“Improving energy efficiency could enable 40 per cent of the emissions reductions we need to meet our climate goals without new technology,” says Shakti. While emerging technologies are novel and exciting, she invites us to use what we have and know to accelerate the energy transition.
On an individual level, a simple starting point could be applying any (or all) of these 65 home energy-saving tips.
- Reimagine instead of replacing
“A sustainable energy future is really not just about swapping energy, one energy source for another, but focusing on the end goal, which is: we want a good standard of life for everyone,” says Shakti.
The idea of achieving a sustainable energy future can quickly become overwhelming once you start asking what needs to be done to get there. For example, if your to-do list starts becoming houses to be gutted, buildings to be torn down and vehicles to be replaced, it begins to sound costly, time consuming, contradictory and unrealistic. Shakti addresses this train of thought by telling us to take a step back: “Remember, the goal is not to replace every single car and truck on the road with a different cleaner version, the goal is mobility for people to get to where they need to go to meet their basic needs, and enjoy their lives.”
Yes, there are significant changes we need to make, like limiting global heating and reducing carbon emissions. But let’s not forget that the future can look different from the past, and that challenging the status quo while designing with intention can result in beautiful innovations.
Shakti suggests that we “...zero in on what makes a community livable and supports people to thrive and build an energy system around that. And we can do that through a combination of things from walkable communities, lifestyle shifts to reduce energy demand, ensuring people's basic needs are met through public transit, and then, where we need them, the odd electric car.”
This is perhaps the most difficult call-to-action since it requires us to be open to change and to dream up new possibilities.
Hey Ottawa - the difference starts with you
Believe it or not, you have the power to shape the world’s energy future. Here in Ottawa, you can do so by listening to, mentoring, and helping younger generations grow.
As a message to the younger folks - keep on learning, seek connection, look for mentors who will help you build a broader perspective. If you’re looking to start your career in the energy sector, keep an eye out for student placements and career opportunities on our Careers page. Lastly, for those between the ages of 18 and 30, be sure to fill out the Global Youth Energy Outlook Questionnaire to share your thoughts on the energy transition. Your voice matters.
To learn more about Student Energy and how their initiatives empower young people to drive the energy transition, check out our ThinkEnergy podcast on “Unlocking a Sustainable Energy Future With Today’s Youth.”