Energy Warriors: Undergrads' 'great charter' for environment

One man demonstrated ‘outstanding leadership’ in searching for solutions to the energy sector’s manpower challenges, while an organisation made a sustained effort in promoting energy awareness among youth. Another organisation received special mention for rallying youth around energy causes. The Straits Times speaks to the inaugural winners of the Singapore Energy Award, which honours those who have made transformational changes in the energy sector, and finds out what fuels their passion.
Straits Times 29 Oct 13;

A LOVE for Lego was what drew 22-year-old Rochelle Hung to the National University of Singapore's student organisation Energy Carta.

Earlier this year, Energy Carta organised an event called Changing the Game, which visualised energy usage through the use of Lego bricks.

Ms Hung, a major in Project and Facility Management at NUS' School of Design and Environment (SDE), heard about it through a department e-mail blast. A long-time lover of Lego, she signed up. "I was determined to understand more about the energy field, especially sustainability, and be able to plan the future that I want to be in, that is, one with smart and sustainable buildings," she recalls.

Ms Hung eventually became one of the student leaders of Energy Carta, which has earned a Special Mention Award in the Organisation category of the inaugural Singapore Energy Award.

Energy Carta, which draws part of its name from the ancient historical document Magna Carta, or Latin for "great charter", was founded by 30-year-old NUS alumnus Yujun Chean in 2008.

The then final-year engineering student had been working with a Silicon Valley start-up and attending classes at Stanford University under a year-long NUS student programme, when he saw former US vice-president Al Gore deliver a landmark speech ahead of the screening of his documentary An Inconvenient Truth. Separately, he also attended a conference by a now-defunct Stanford organisation that convinced him students could make a difference.

Back at NUS, it dawned on him that he could do something similar. "I penned down names of prominent individuals within the clean-tech world," he recalls. "I also tried to get my friends excited about creating a student-run conference as a final year project."

In the end, an event he thought would simply allow him to "leave school with a bang" ended up having a much greater impact.

First, Professor Chou Siaw Kiang, executive director of the NUS Energy Studies Institute, encouraged him not to set up the organisation as a Stanford offshoot but as an independent Singapore-rooted organisation.

Then, the Economic Development Board (EDB) threw in its support and the Energy Market Authority (EMA) agreed to make Energy Carta its youth partner at the inaugural Singapore International Energy Week in 2008.

"This gave us a lot of credibility when we were pitching for support, speakers and funding, and accelerated our growth curve," says Mr Chean.

What resulted was the Asian Youth Energy Summit in 2008, which became the largest student-led energy conference in Singapore, attracting over 500 participants and featuring 30 industry speakers. The following year, Energy Carta added the Chevron Case Challenge, where 97 teams vied to develop the best 20-year energy plan for a fictional city.

A year later, the winner of the Singapore round of the Cleantech Open Global Ideas Competition was flown to the United States for the global leg of the competition.

Energy Carta has raised more than $170,000 in sponsorships from corporations such as PowerSeraya, Chevron, Sembcorp, Singapore Airlines and UOL.

"These funds have enabled us to organise large-scale events, reaching well over a thousand participants," says Mr Chean.

"The belief is that while most people may not be intrinsically keen to solve climate change, they may indirectly do so by building a career in the sector, and Energy Carta aims to get them started on that path," he explains.