In a new effort to engage young people in the push for a transition to a renewables-based energy system, REN21 hosted its first ever REN21 Young Professionals Day (YPD) on Sunday 22 November 2020 in collaboration with SDG7 Youth Constituency, Student Energy and YES-Europe. YPD was the kick-off to our first virtual REN21 Academy, and was dedicated to enabling young people to engage with and champion renewable energy. With 400 applicants vying for only 100 participant slots, there is a very clear message: these events are needed and valuable to young people around the world.
Here are the main takeaways from the event:
“Today will bring together bright young minds from renewable energy and related sectors in our immersive, collaborative online space”, said our Executive Director, Rana Adib during the Opening Panel. Adib presented an overview of the global renewable energy trends and the challenges in the energy sector, emphasising sectoral disconnect. “We need to shift from power transition to energy transition. We need to push for the energy transition in the heating and cooling sector, and the transport sector as well”.
A fully integrated energy system also requires the involvement of diverse actors, either as consumers or producers. Adib outlined the need to form new partnerships with end-users. Abdullah Khair from Student Energy pointed out that key to a sustainable renewable energy transition is the need to have a multi-stakeholder approach to tackle the challenges faced by during the transition in order to ensure that no one is left behind.
Regarding the challenges young people face driving the shift to renewables, Beniamin Strzelecki from SDG7 Youth Constituency talked about the need to have meaningful youth engagement that could turn into action, especially in relation to policy advocacy and decision making. But for that, there must be room for them to collaborate and bring their thoughts to the table. “If young people don’t have someone to open the opportunity to the sector, it’s super difficult for young people to enter the industry.”
Discussing the challenges of COVID-19 pandemic crisis, both Strzelecki and Beatriz Ildefonso from YES-Europe underlined that some aspects of the energy transition have been heavily affected such as funding and technical expertise. Ildefonso considers it as an opportunity to train young people for the sectors of the future: “COVID-19 should be a driver for governments to invest in reskilling and upskilling right now.” Energy planning involves so many skills, as Adib explained.
The four speakers agreed that the time for action is now. “We can’t afford to do the bare minimum. Here’s where young people play a crucial role, by questioning the status quo and change how we do the stuff that we usually do”, said Ildefonso. “Be curious, ask questions, go out of your comfort zone and talk to the ones who don’t agree with you“, recommended Adib talking about ways young people can help the renewable energy transition.
Throughout YPD, we had two CoLabs where participants chose between two parallel sessions. The first one was Lean Coffee, a fast-paced dynamic discussion on key renewable energy topics, selected according to the participants’ interest.
The second session, Conflict Management Role Play, was an exciting problem-solving challenge based on real-world conflicts in energy. The participants chose between three case studies: The Journey of a Country Switching from Coal to Renewables; Electrifying one Village at a Time: Are Microgrids the Solution?; and Not in my Backyard! Facing Community Opposition. Participants in each case study had a role to play, and practised negotiating using these real world examples. This was an opportunity to deepen understanding of these scenarios as well as how each sector and actor can play a role in the energy transition.
During the Knowledge Library segment, we screened three videos on key renewable energy topics. The first video was of an interview with Duncan Green from Oxfam called “The Secrets of Creating Societal Change” which focus on understanding both the incentives of people and the system that need to be changed.
The second video with Antina Sander from Renewables Grid Initiative is titled “Why renewables activists need to know about grids” and talks about understanding the reason to focus on grids and system planning. The third video displayed was an interview with Priscilla Negreiros from Climate Policy Initiative called How to “Finance Future Climate Projects” about climate investment, especially financing climate projects in the city.
Young Professionals Day was an opportunity for young people to learn and share knowledge, to create connections across sectors and region, and also to tackle their concerns in the labour market. During the Career Chat session, participants sat down with professionals in the sector to be inspired and empowered to jumpstart their careers.
Although the COVID-19 pandemic prevented us from meeting face-to-face, we found that the energy and drive from our community can push physical limits and still engage in a virtual space.