With a network of over 50,000 young people in over 120 countries, Student Energy is the world’s largest youth-led organisation working on energy, empowering young people who are accelerating the transition to a sustainable and equitable future. Meaningful engagement of young people, the organisation says, is key to a sustainable future for the hydropower industry.

In 2009, three students organised the first International Student Energy Summit, driven by a vision to bring young people together to learn about and take action to transform the energy system. Now, 15 years on, Student Energy has grown into a fully-fledged youth-led organisation, with a diverse range of programmes that supports emerging young leaders at all phases of their education and career journey. 

A youth perspective

As a global youth-led organisation working with young people in all kinds of energy contexts, we find that youth are often grappling with the two realities of the hydropower industry.

It is a fact that hydropower remains the largest renewable energy source globally, with the IEA predicting that it will continue to add capacity and remain the largest renewable energy source on the path to net zero by 2050. At the same time, youth are seeing a great deal of uncertainty and concern about the future of mega-hydro projects, with some climate advocates going so far as to even call into question whether large-scale hydropower is “renewable” after all, following studies which have analysed lifecycle emissions and found that methane (a greenhouse gas over 30 times more potent than carbon dioxide over a 100-year timeframe) forms over 80% of the emissions from water storage reservoirs created by hydro dams. In addition to greenhouse gas emissions, hydropower reservoirs also alter the natural hydrology of most rivers, disrupting fish migratory patterns, impacting soil fertility, and potentially food security for neighbouring communities.

There are also social and economic implications that weigh heavy for clean energy advocates. Often, states, private construction companies, and consulting firms have reaped the financial benefits of these projects, leaving local communities to struggle with the impacts of displacement and degraded land. These intersections are of critical importance to young people. 

If there’s anything we at Student Energy have learned over the past 15 years of working with young people globally, it is that youth will not accept a clean energy transition or a net zero future that perpetuates the harms and injustices of the current energy system. 

While we do typically hear of young people being more vocally interested in solar or wind in the renewable energy industry, hydro has a major opportunity to re-emerge as an exciting space for innovation by engaging and working with young people in directly tackling these complex problems.

IHA partnership

It is precisely to dive into these complexities and explore what a just, equitable, and sustainable future for the hydropower industry would look like that Student Energy announced a partnership with the International Hydropower Association at the most recent UN Climate Change Conference (COP 28) in Dubai in December 2023. The non-financial strategic partnership aims to connect young people in the energy sector to the global hydropower industry and its ecosystem of practitioners, to share knowledge, mentorship, and resources, to empower young people with a stronger understanding of the industry and its ongoing evolution of sustainable hydropower development. Vice versa, Student Energy will connect the IHA to a global network of diverse youth perspectives, data and evidence on youth engagement in the clean energy sector, and opportunities to convene and connect at energy and climate gatherings. 

As an education-first organisation, Student Energy believes in equipping young people with opportunities to learn and engage directly with decision-makers across the energy sector, in order to develop their own perspectives on the climate solutions best suited for their communities and to forge their own career paths and actions for positive impact. We encourage other organisations across the energy industry to seek out similar collaborative partnerships with youth-led organisations, as there can be valuable mutual learning opportunities that help to tackle some of the pressing challenges within energy industries. 

42,000 voices

One way to engage with youth perspectives could be by exploring youth-led research. In 2022, Student Energy launched the Global Youth Energy Outlook, a first-of-its-kind research project surveying nearly 42,000 young people in 129 countries to gather data on youth perspectives on the energy transition and climate action. Working with ten regional coordinators from around the world, the Outlook outlines localised data points and includes global equity considerations in the context of their particular country and region. The results have started important conversations for both youth and industry leaders and could hold valuable insights for the hydropower sector as well.

As a global average, young people identified ‘government willpower, policies, and regulations’ in the Outlook as the biggest barrier to achieving a sustainable energy transition in their respective countries.  Youth also believe that business and industry hold the greatest share of responsibility when it comes to transitioning the energy system. 

The Outlook’s Action Toolkit for Governments and Industry outlines what institutions can do to facilitate the energy transition, including:

  • Set credible timelines for net-zero, decarbonize operations, and incentivize use of sustainable/renewable energy.
  • Include youth at all levels (local, national, international) of decision-making; fund youth-led projects; and create jobs for young people to take action on energy.
  • Set policies to attract and regulate investment into renewable energy projects.
  • Listen to communities and provide support based on their unique needs (e.g., funding, capacity building).

Student Energy advocates for the meaningful inclusion of young people in the energy sector. This goes beyond simply consulting with young people about their wants and needs for the industry. We encourage industry leaders and policymakers to develop action and implementation plans, considering the types of meaningful and reciprocal youth partnerships that are available for them. Whether it is funding, mentorship, or increasing youth representation within critical decision-making spaces, it is vital to engage young people as key stakeholders in the transition to an equitable and just energy future. 

In 2024 Student Energy will be prioritising the expansion of our program offerings to youth in the Global South to meet the growing demands from those regions and to mainstream opportunities for youth who want to take action on energy challenges in their communities. 


About Student Energy

Student Energy’s programmes include a global chapters network engaging university students, a fellowship, career training, and guided project programmes that provide knowledge sharing and skills training in tackling clean energy projects in their communities. 

Its flagship biennial International Student Energy Summit is now the largest youth-led energy conference in the world, and its free interactive Energy System Map demystifies energy concepts in an accessible online tool, reaching over 15 million users globally.  

Student Energy has also supported the development of over 280 youth energy projects and works with global organisations Sustainable Energy for All (SEforALL), DNV, WSP, Bezos Earth Fund, the Global Energy Alliance for People and Planet, and national governments including Canada, Denmark, and Sweden to put youth at the forefront of decision-making spaces in the energy transition. 

If you or your organisation are interested in learning more, please contact the organisation at: info@studentenergy.org.  

You can also read more about Student Energy’s approach to Strategic Partnerships at: https://studentenergy.org/about/partners/


Report by Pauline Adalid, Communications Manager; Jade Siewnarine, Research and Youth Engagement Manager; and Shakti Ramkumar, Senior Director of Global Programmes, Student Energy.