World Bank managing director Sri Mulyani Indrawati speaking at the opening of the 2015 International Student Energy Summit (ISES) in Nusa Dua, Bali. (Photo courtesy of ISES 2015)

Future Looks Bright for Energetic Youth at Global Summit

JUNE 19, 2015

Jakarta/Denpasar. “It is difficult for me to think of a more important field than the one you will work in, because you are going to be the experts who can help bring about access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all,” said World Bank managing director Sri Mulyani Indrawati.

Sri Mulyani, a former finance minister of Indonesia, was addressing hundreds of university students from all over the world who convened for the International Student Energy Summit (ISES) 2015 in Nusa Dua, Bali, last week to discuss and exchange ideas about the global energy sector — a subject that is arguably not very popular in talks among today’s Gen Y or Z.

Some 1.1 billion people around the world continue to live without electricity, according to Sri Mulyani, who highlighted the issue of energy poverty in her speech. She added that 68 million of Ethiopia’s 91 million people continue to live in the dark today, with electricity costs soaring to 20 to 50 US cents per kilowatt-hour in sub-Saharan Africa, despite the global average cost standing at 10 US cents.

“Poor people are the least likely to have access to power and they are more likely to remain poor if they stay unconnected,” she said.

Running a total of four days, the biennial event, which this year picked the theme “Connecting the Unconnected,” sought to address this issue and the many complex aspects that contribute to such the concerning condition.

Consisting of a series of panel sessions daily, a case competition, as well as other supporting activities covering a range of subjects such as the involvement of women in energy innovation and issues surrounding energy storage, organizers of the event hope not just to involve the world’s younger generation in important talks about energy, but to inspire them to become future leaders of a sector so universally crucial to the daily life of humanity.

“It is not that typical conference where you fly to a new city, sit in a room, listen to a few people talk and get maybe a few new things and a few business cards,” says Kali Taylor, executive director of Student Energy, a not-for-profit youth organization focusing on energy, which conceived the ISES event back in 2009.

“This is something that we shaped together ... this event is for students, by students,” she said.

Abdul Rashid, a third-year business student from Ghana, was among those attending the conference. Despite majoring in a field of study that is different from the event’s main focus, he sees ISES as a good place for him to get started.

“Energy is something new to me, but so far it’s been good,” he said. “I’ve always been interested [in energy] because my father works in petroleum and I actually kind of helped him in his work. In Africa, people usually like to get involved in petroleum but the initiative there is very, very low, so I’d like to make that change.”

At the event, Rashid was among a group of students who participated in a field trip to the Balinese district of Bangli, a three-hour bus ride from Nusa Dua, where the local government has partnered with Clean Power Indonesia to generate electricity from bamboo plants to supply local homes.

“I went for the field trip and there was a biomass [project] going on there, and I’m really hoping to come to Bali again and check it out and go back home and create something like that for the country,” Rashid said.

Ian Lieblich, a delegate from Australia, emphasized the importance of the summit as an opportunity for students from different backgrounds to find common ground in achieving energy sustainability goals.

“We’re all from such diverse backgrounds, yet we all want the same thing. So it’s about how these goals coexist,” he said, adding that the conference was all the more interesting with the involvement of fossil fuel companies such as BP, Total and Chevron.

“It’s important to have the youth involved, because we’re the ones whose leadership will be involved in the process [of tackling energy crises] ... especially in developing nations.”

The involvement of the youth at ISES became an element that set the event apart from similar international youth talks. Being organized solely by university students, host countries are required to pass a tight selection process by Student Energy prior to being selected.

This year, students from the Bandung Institute of Technology (ITB) joined hands with their counterparts from other leading Indonesian universities, such as the University of Indonesia, Gadjah Mada University and Trisakti University, to form a committee of 70 students to put together the event.

The team beat 15 other universities from other countries who had expressed interest in hosting the event, such as Carnegie Mellon University in the United States and Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands.

At the helm of the committee’s leadership was ITB student Hilman Syahri Fathoni, who was inspired to bring the event to Indonesia after participating in the 2013 summit held in Norway.

Taylor highlighted the Indonesian students’ passion in pitching their plan for the event as one of the determining factors in selecting Indonesia to host.

“The second reason is that the school’s support was very apparent,” she said.

ITB rector Kadarsyah, who was present throughout the event, expressed pride in having a team of students from his university organize the event.

“We are truly glad and proud about Indonesia and ITB’s success in winning the bid to become the host of ISES 2015. Through this conference, we hope to introduce Indonesia’s energy potential to he world,” he said.

“It is ITB’s policy to have students immerse themselves in an international atmosphere. [The issue of] energy is an issue that we share and so through this event we are pushing our students to get together with their peers and  discuss possible solutions to this problem.”