This shift in focus is redefining engineering by providing us with a new set of challenges. In the past engineers focused on making sure their machines were safe for workers, we’re now having to think of ways to make sure industry processes are safe for the entire planet.

A Bright Idea - Helping the Next Generation Create a Sustainable Future
A Bright Idea - Helping the Next Generation Create a Sustainable Future

Case Study from | Mats W Lundberg, Sustainable Business Manager

The future of solar power is burning bright. According to a report by The International Energy Agency (IEA), renewable power is set to expand by 50 per cent between 2019 and 2024, with solar photovoltaic (PV) representing almost 60 per cent of this expected growth. At this pivotal time for renewable energy, it is time we focused on supporting the next generation. Here, Mats W Lundberg, Sustainable Business Manager at Sandvik Materials Technology, explains how Sandvik is helping young people make the switch. 

Named after the Sandvik AB’s founder, Göran Fredrik Göransson, Göranssonska school was designed to nurture the next generation of problem solvers. With a specially designed technical program that was started by the Sandviken municipality and Sandvik back in 2002, training takes place in close cooperation with the company and its onsite machines even reflect the equipment available at the high-tech company.

It was therefore only natural that the school also sought new ways to improve its sustainability and inspire the next generation of engineers. 

 

Sustainability matters

Sustainability is a more than just a buzzword and engineering plays a key role in making it possible. Engineers develop faster wind turbine blades; they make electric vehicles lighter and they research ways of reducing manufacturing waste. Engineers are also increasingly expected to play a leadership role for sustainable development, working to solve global challenges such as pollution, the depletion of resources, ecosystem damage and the effects of population growth. 

This shift in focus is redefining engineering by providing us with a new set of challenges. While in the past engineers focused on making sure their machines were safe for workers, we’re now also having to think of ways to make sure industry processes are safe for the entire planet. This creates more demand than ever before for skilled workers who can help businesses tackle their sustainability and work towards becoming more ecological. 

In June 2017, Sandvik was invited to Göranssonska to discuss how the school could bring more sustainability conversations into the classroom. The school was interested in learning more about Sandvik’s own approach to sustainability and how the school could connect and integrate it into its curriculum. Our suggestion was to focus on how to make the school itself more sustainable. 

 

Bringing the sunshine

As an engineer, you know that knowledge is power and gathering data is key. When thinking about sustainability, this data should make you stop and reflect.   Are we using our resources efficiently? What sustainable options are out there? Questioning can be just as important as finding the answers, it is the art of learning and this way of thinking needs to be instilled into students from the start so it can act as a baseline when tacking life’s challenges.

When questioning how to help make the school more sustainable, our thoughts soon turned to solar power. More than half of the energy used in Sweden comes from renewable resources, and the country achieved its 2020 target of 50 per cent renewable energy back in 2012. In the 2016 Energy Agreement and the Climate Framework from 2017, Sweden set even more ambitious targets, including the long-term goal of zero net emissions by 2045.

Hydropower and bioenergy are the top renewable sources in Sweden, mainly thanks to its rich supply of moving water and biomass, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t potential for other resources. Though still limited, the Swedish solar cell market has begun to grow with the government’s total budget for its solar rebate program reaching a total of 736 million SEK in 2019. Under the program, homeowners, businesses and public organisations are entitled to receive an initial investment support part of the costs for purchasing and installing a rooftop PV system.

Sweden is a country with big differences in daylight, but its summer months mean that it can truly make the most of solar energy. In the south, summer daylight outlasts the average person’s waking hours. In the far north, the sun hardly sets for weeks at a time. 

 

Bright sparks

With solar power being such a burgeoning area of potential, it was natural for us to explore this resource with Göranssonska. After several meetings with PV companies, we got in contact with a regional business that understood the pedagogical aspects of the project and 330, 100 kilowatt (kW) panels have now been installed on the school’s roof. 

But what would students learn from simply installing solar panels? To make the project a more interactive experience, the panels are being connected to the schools’ science classes to help introduce even more discussions into the classroom. Students aren’t only learning about the environmental benefits of installing solar PVs onto the building’s roof, but they are also beginning to think about the science behind solar energy. 

For example, students can use the experience to learn about how energy efficiency varies with ambient temperature, or how the physics in a PV cell actually works. Screens inside the school will also display the output from the PV system, which students will also be able to track via an app. It is these close encounters with impactful technology that will influence young people to think about sustainability and contribute to a greener future.

One set of solar panels at one school may not seem like a significant step towards global sustainability, but with the growing potential of solar energy continuing to soar, the results could inspire the next generation of sustainable engineers. It is not only vital that we recognise the power of renewable resources, but we should also take our knowledge to the classroom in order to help reach our goals well into the future.

 
 
The content & opinions in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily represent the views of AltEnergyMag

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