Training the next generation - from 3 to 30

By Christiane Egger & Megan Gignac, OÖ Energiesparverband, Upper Austria
Winter 2019

Long before the uprise of Fridays for Future, the region of Upper Austria (one of Austria's 9 regions) had already understood that young people can be strong and valuable proponents of the clean energy transition. They are the citizens, workforce and decision makers of tomorrow. They are those who have the most at stake. Furthermore, they provide fresh ideas and new enthusiasm for action and overcoming the challenge.

Since its foundation in 1991, the Regional Energy Agency of Upper Austria (OÖ Energiesparverband, ESV), has been driving the energy transition on all fronts by working with the entire range of stakeholders. This includes young professionals and students of all ages. Energy saving and climate protection education must start at a young age in order to make it second nature and a fully integrated part of citizens’ lives. The ESV actively engages younger generations with a wide portfolio of activities specifically targeted to people 3 to 30 years old.

Energy savings and climate protection needs to start early – very early! The ESV developed and ran an innovative programme called "PV goes to school". Nursery, primary and secondary schools were offered a 75% subsidy for the installation of a 3-kWp PV system on their building, a comprehensive toolbox of age-appropriate and interactive educational material on renewable energy and a compulsory 1-day training for teachers on how to integrate the material in their (nursery) school's curriculum. The programme generated an impressive response with 40% of all primary and secondary schools and 25% of all nursery schools in Upper Austria taking part. In total, 2 MW PV was installed and around 600 educators from 550 schools were trained. This novel programme helped to sensitise not only the children, but also their parents, the school staff and the larger community.

In 2001, together with regional vocational schools, the ESV created an apprenticeship programme for heating installers with dedicated education on renewable heating ("eco-installers"). Since then, thousands of students were trained to install the technologies needed for the energy transition. The ESV also organises 1-day outings to companies in Upper Austria for vocational school students. On site, they receive handson information about the company, their services and products. This also serves to initiate contact between companies and potential future employees. Since 2013, over 1,000 students have taken part in 27 such outings.

Also in the early 2000s, the first study programme for green energy engineers was developed together with the University of Applied Sciences. Today, there are over 600 graduates from three such study programmes (2 bachelor and 1 master). The master degree programme "Sustainable Energy Systems" is offered in English, thus attracting international students to Upper Austria and preparing regional students for the globalised world.

The ESV supports energy technology companies in increasing competitiveness and market leadership in the context of the Cleantech-Cluster (CTC), a network of 250 businesses in Upper Austria. In 2019, acting on this ambition, the ESV came up with a cutting-edge event that tapped into the creative thinking and problem solving skills of bright young minds.

The "International Clean Energy Challenge", held from 22-26 July 2019 in Upper Austria, brought together 64 highly-qualified young professionals (under 33 years old) from more than 30 countries and 11 partner companies for a novel event of collaborative innovation. In diversified and interdisciplinary teams, they tackled real-life challenges presented by the partner companies.

Each of the teams was assigned to a specific challenge, typically consisting of a service, concept or market that the company is keen on developing or expanding.

This original new concept attracted strong interest. 200 high-potential candidates from 43 countries applied. The selected participants consisted mostly of young professionals working in businesses, industry, energy agencies, associations, public bodies and research institutions and some students in advanced education. They came from a diversity of educational backgrounds including engineering, economy, architecture, business administration, chemistry, mathematics, law, political science and more. The event brought qualified professionals in contact with forerunner companies and was overall a great success for all people involved.

Every spring in Wels/Austria, the ESV holds one of Europe's largest annual conferences on sustainable energy – the World Sustainable Energy Days (WSED). Through a series of specialised conferences covering technologies, markets, policies and more, the WSED attract over 660 participants from more than 50 countries each year.

In 2012, a central place for young energy researchers was created within the WSED. The Young Energy Researchers Conference is dedicated to presenting the work and achievements of young researchers in the fields of energy efficiency and biomass. It offers them the opportunity to interact with researchers and industry experts from all over the world. Throughout the years, over 400 young researchers have participated in the event. For many, this was a first-time opportunity to hold an international presentation. As organiser, the ESV covers most of their costs. Moreover, the most outstanding contributions are honoured with the "Best Young Energy Researcher" Award and 1,000 Euro each in prize money. For the upcoming 2020 edition, over 120 papers were received from 44 countries.

Over the past year, youth speaking out through Fridays for Future has offered a much welcomed renewed momentum to climate protection. Their message is clear: we all need to make the necessary changes happen. Each individual has an essential role to play. Business leaders, public administrations and policy-makers need to fulfil their obligations to the next generations.

You are warmly invited to join the World Sustainable Energy Days in Wels/Austria from 4 – 6 March 2020 to take an active part in the clean energy transition (