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[Herald Interview] Korean science prodigies seek sustainability in school

Zayed Future Energy Prize winners aim to cut school power use by 15%

By Korea Herald

Published : Jan. 28, 2016 - 16:22

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ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates -- Climate change has become a hot global issue of concern, with 195 countries adopting the first-ever legally binding global climate deal at the Paris climate conference in December.

With each government contemplating measures to fulfill their pledge to limit global average temperatures to well below 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels, a group of Korean science prodigies have stepped up to the plate, boldly vowing to pursue sustainability starting from their school -- cutting energy usage by 15 percent.

The six-member team of 16-year-old students of Korea Science Academy, a high school affiliated with Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, gathered their research and ideas since last year and submitted the project at a global climate change forum in Abu Dhabi this month.

The project won the 8th annual Zayed Future Energy Prize under Asia’s high school category on Jan. 18. The award was conferred during the Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week, an annual global forum initiated by the Abu Dhabi government. This is the first time that South Korean candidates have received the award. 

Kim Min-u (left) and Jin Jong-min pose with their award at the Zayed Future Energy Prize ceremony in Abu Dhabi on Jan 18. (Korea Science Academy) Kim Min-u (left) and Jin Jong-min pose with their award at the Zayed Future Energy Prize ceremony in Abu Dhabi on Jan 18. (Korea Science Academy)

Their project includes: Improving efficiency of the existing 20 kilowatt solar energy facility; offering opportunities for making and using mini wind power generators for students; providing electricity generators at a school gym; installing electrical outlets that reduces the standby power in classrooms; and building green roofs on dorm buildings.

“Their suggestions provide students opportunities to participate in energy-saving initiatives. We are planning to utilize the prize money for the project,” team member Kim Min-u said.

Established by the UAE government and managed by renewable energy company Masdar since 2008, the ZFEP award has promoted renewable energy and sustainability, in legacy of UAE founder Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Nahyan, who championed environmental stewardship.

The annual awards are given in five categories -- large corporations, small and medium enterprises, nonprofit organizations, lifetime achievement and overseas high schools -- with a total prize fund of $ 4 million. One school from each continent is picked for the overseas high school award.

This year, about 15,000 candidates from over 40 countries were evaluated based on their impact, innovation, leadership and long-term vision by a jury of energy experts and state leaders, the organizers said. The South Korean winners received $100,000 as part of the prize.

“We are seeking to motivate more friends to be interested in sustainability through more investment, since our school is a science-oriented institution. We hope that our achievement motivates scientists to develop renewable energy technology,” Kim said.

The jury members who were in charge of screening the candidates for several months expressed high hopes for the winners’ future.

“I hope they play a ‘seed’ role in Korea so that other students, corporations or nonprofit organizations also have opportunities to receive the same prize next time and raise awareness on sustainability nationwide” vice chair of the ZFEP jury Han Seung-soo, told The Korea Herald. Han, a former Korean prime minister who currently serves as the United Nations special envoy of the secretary-general for disaster risk reduction and water, has worked with the ZFEP since 2009.

“Since the ZFEP offered awards for renewable energy-seeking entities, the award winners have positively influenced more than 202 million people around the world,” he added

The students, meanwhile, stressed that the prize would have been impossible without the support of their school faculty and fellow students.

“As the only public science prodigy school in Korea, the faculty and students feel an obligation to lead other gifted children in the science sector. I hope our first-ever ZFEP award stimulates more students with a better educational environment,” said the students’ teacher, Choi Ji-young.

The ZFEP is part of the Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week, an annual global forum initiated by the government. The ADSW, the largest gathering on sustainability in the Middle East, has put efforts to uniting leaders, policymakers and investors to address the challenges of renewable energy and sustainable development.

The week-long forum consisted of various programs ranging from World Future Energy Summit, International Renewable Energy Agency General Assembly to conferences and festivals.

By Lee Hyun-jeong (rene@heraldcorp.com)
Korea Herald correspondent