Statewide Student Summit to Inspire Energy Solutions

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Middle and high school students from across the state will convene at the first Student Energy Summit on Friday, networking and brainstorming on ways Hawaii can achieve energy independence in the next 30 years.

“Energy is becoming a really hot topic, especially among students, and teachers are starting to incorporate it into their lessons,” explained David Aquino, Director of Innovation at the Blue Planet Foundation, which is organizing the summit. “These students are hearing about it all the time, and they’re going to be the ones inheriting the decisions that are going to be made — business decisions and political decisions.”

The summit is fueled in part by the state’s goal of running entirely on renewable energy by the year 2045. Signed into law by Gov. David Ige in June, it’s an aggressive target, considering that Hawaii is currently the most oil-dependent state in the U.S., spending roughtly $5 billion on outside sources of energy.

“Now we’re really getting the next generation that’s going to be taking the reigns of this goal in the next five to ten years and getting them thinking about realistic solutions we can put in place for Hawaii,” Aqino said on tonight’s Bytemarks Cafe.

And frankly, today’s energy conversation is dominated by grown ups.

“While there are a lot of conferences — like the Asia Pacific Clean Energy Conference and Clean Energy Day — they’re targeted more for business owners and more for the adults,” he explained. “We really wanted to make somethings where the students have their own space.”

More than 120 students from every island will be participating in the summit, including public school, charter school, and even home school students. Many of them were encouraged to apply by science teachers and environmental club advisors, while others were already connected with the foundation.

“Blue Planet has always worked with schools,” Aqino said. “Several years ago we did the ‘CFL Better Bulb Blitz,’ working with over 180 schools statewide, exchanging over 300,000 light bulbs that saved $46 million over lifetime of those bulbs.”

“This is a way to bring those students back together, engage with those teachers, and really have one event where they can discuss everything they’re learning about energy,” he added.

And while the summit is this weekend, it is actually the culmination of a month-long curriculum developed to lead up to the event. The students have already completed a series of lessons broken down into three categories: energy efficiency, energy storage, and the 100 percent clean energy goal. They’ve been watching videos online and reading handouts.

There has even been a social media component, with students posting images to Instagram in response to prompts. You can see these posts, as well as track the progress of the summit as it unfolds, with the hashtag #studentenergysummit.

In these last few days, delegates are now preparing for a “design thinking” challenge that will serve as the centerpiece of the summit. They will also be able to form teams and receive a little funding to participate in an innovation contest that will push them to bring their ideas to life in a working prototype.

“We want these students to take what they learn at the summit, bring that back to their own islands and bring it back to their peers and to their classrooms and really be those clean energy advocates within their community,” Aqino said.

Blue Planet Foundation has secured support from a number of sponsors to make the Student Energy Summit possible, including the Energy Excelerator, Hawaii Energy, the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism (DBEDT) and Hawaiian Airlines, which provided a travel allowance to help neighbor island students attend.

The inaugural Student Energy Summit, which is intended to become an annual event, will be held on Saturday, Nov. 7 at the Maxey International Trade Resource Center, located in Foreign Trade Zone 9 at Pier 2 across from One Waterfront. For more information, including early signups for 2016, visit studentenergysummit.org.

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