Inequalities and discrimination faced by young people in the renewable energy workforce prevent too many of them from realizing their full potential as agents of change. This means that the sector is missing out on benefiting from an entire talent pool. To unlock jobs and economic opportunities in the renewable energy sector, young people need a formal seat at the energy transition decision-making table. This was made resoundingly clear last week at the first ever SEforALL Youth Summit where more that 2000 young leaders issued a clear call to action to reset the energy transition. Time is of the essence: if we do not invest in young people, we’re basically divesting in future generations.
Inclusion of young people in the energy transition will not be achieved through a “business as usual approach”. There are serious intersectional equity concerns that need to be addressed in the energy industry at large as we work to change the system. “The clean energy economy workforce is older, dominated by male workers, and lacks racial diversity when compared to all occupations nationally. Fewer than 20 percent of workers in the clean energy production and energy efficiency sectors are women, while black workers fill less than ten percent of these sector’s jobs,” states a recent Brookings Institute report. According to the International Renewable Energy Association (IRENA), despite making up 48% of the global labor force, women only account for 22% of the labor force in the oil and gas sector and 32% in renewables.
There are also intergenerational and global equity considerations that need to be embedded in how countries and industry approach youth inclusion in their planning. With more than 3.5 billion people under the age of 30, of which more than 89% live in emerging and developing economies, responding to the needs of young people will be the only way to achieving the global goals. This population is often under-prioritized when it comes to education, training, and employment to support workforce productivity. And yet, these are markets that are growing the fastest and should be leveraging the value of young people to accelerate the global energy transition. Just last month, Student Energy outlined top five call-to-actions for leaders in the energy sector to consider when engaging and empowering young people.
Entering the Decade of Action
“With their futures at risk, youth are the ultimate stockholders in the energy transition,” Damilola Ogunbiyi, co-chair of U.N. Energy and chief executive of Sustainable Energy for All (SEforAll) said at the first ever SEforALL Youth Summit last week, aimed at pushing for faster progress on a clean, inclusive energy transition in line with the Paris Agreement. “We need to empower young leaders to act and influence today’s decisions around energy and climate, so they have the opportunity for the prosperous future they deserve.”
With less than ten years until 2030 there is simply no time to lose as we rebuild to meet our emissions reductions, energy access needs, and pave the way for long lasting systems change. The next ten years will be remembered as the last decade to achieve the sustainable development goals (SDGs), which includes affordable and clean energy, decent work and economic growth, reduced inequalities, gender equality, and climate action, among many others that directly and indirectly connect to a global energy transition.
“Attending the SEforALL Youth Summit makes me feel optimistic about the future of sustainable energy transition and universal energy access for all. Youth around the world are asking brilliant questions, starting groundbreaking initiatives, supporting innovative solutions, and sharing lessons learned and best practices. Decision-makers and policymakers need to start listening to, engaging with, supporting, and involving young people to achieve sustainable development goals (SDGs) 7 and 13 by 2030 beyond a tokenistic approach.” said Nabila Putri Salsabila, the GYEO Youth Regional Coordinator for Southeast Asia, after attending the SEforALL Youth Summit.
More reasons to be optimistic: Youth are already leading on solutions
Despite the challenges of a global energy transition by 2030, youth are already rising to the forefront as advocates and innovators bringing clean and reliable energy solutions to their homes, communities, regions and even countries.
According to Power for All’s study, decentralized renewable energy (DRE) solutions – solar for home and business, green mini-grids and standalone machinery (such as solar-powered irrigation pumps, solar milling machines) are generating significant economic opportunities for young entrepreneurs. They have the potential to create up to five times more jobs in local communities through their application in so-called productive uses in agro-processing, communications, health, commerce, education, and other fields.
In rural Bangladesh, access to modern electricity and lighting by more than a quarter of the rural population remains a distant dream. Sebastian Groh, founder and managing director of SOLshare is bringing electricity to rural villages in Bangladesh, giving households the ability to buy and sell electricity through his energy trading platform. Through its peer-to-peer solar energy exchange platform, called the ‘SOLbazaar’, SOLshare allows households and small businesses to trade electricity with their neighbours.
In Rwanda, electricity consumers are charged $0.22 per kilowatt hour (KWh). This is one of the highest electricity tariffs in the East African region where tariffs are usually between $0.08 and $0.10, according to the World Bank. Armed with the statistics of the challenging energy situation in his country, Henri Nyakarundi founder of the ARED Group is spreading solar-powered mobile kiosks in Rwanda and across East Africa. The kiosk generates its own power, enabling a franchisee to sell airtime as well as provide other telecoms services such as the transfer of mobile money.
“It is important to integrate the contribution of young people in the pursuit of sustainable development and climate action,” says Francesco La Camera, IRENA’s Director-General. “I believe in young people, their ideas and their ways to look at the future. They are concerned about it and they want to be active, find solutions, implement them and make a difference by building a climate-safe renewable energy future.”
Actions and initiatives led by young people can trigger the necessary momentum for scaling energy access and local innovation but more needs to be done to support them. Needed support includes education, training, direct-to-youth resourcing, and networks of support; mechanisms that need to be designed with inclusion and equity at the centre.
Creating Space for Youth to Act
“Young people today are more than willing to solve the world's most difficult problems which includes climate change and inequality.” said Chibunna Ogbonna after attending the SEforALL Youth Summit, Co-founder of RenewCycle Energy and Regional Coordinator for the GYEO.
Bringing government, industry and young people together to achieve our global sustainable energy objectives is not simply a question of developing or mobilizing the right technology. It is a question of organizing energy delivery in a way that navigates existing discrimination and responds to the central roles played by women and youth and those on the margins of society. It is also a question of responding to the skills in demand for changing roles in the energy future and offering accessible ways to build those skills so everyone can participate in the energy workforce. It is about understanding and responding to the values and call-to-actions from young people, which include everything from a Just Transition for current workers to clean air for communities, and recognizing their critical role in sustaining this systems-change work in the long term.
“Young leaders from around the world are pivotal to meet SDG7 by 2030. What they bring to the table is critical to ensure universal access to clean cooking and modern energy,” says Dymphna van der Lans, Clean Cooking Alliance CEO. “That’s why we must empower and support them with opportunities and knowledge to become the world’s energy professionals and leaders of tomorrow.”
Engaging young people in global decision making and planning processes offers numerous co-benefits to the renewable energy sector. Only by including them in the energy transition and equipping them with the right set of skills, will our future energy systems meet the needs of a modern society, while meeting our emissions reduction needs and truly leaving no one behind.
Helen Watts is the Senior Director of Global Partnerships at Student Energy, a global NGO empowering the next generation of leaders who will accelerate our transition to a sustainable energy future.