An open letter to the Green future
The European Solar Challenge is coming up this weekend, and at iLumen we’re celebrating our 10th anniversary this year. There’s no better moment to reflect on our journey and share a few words of advice with the people who will lead us to a greener future.
To those ready to conquer the Solar Challenge
It’s already been 15 years since some fellow classmates and I decided to take a sabbatical year to compete at the World Solar Race in Australia as part of the Belgian solar team from KU Leuven. At the time, we were just some engineering students at Group T who loved cars and wanted to make an impact.
These were the early days of solar energy, when the technology was still in its infancy. We were young, curious and creative. So, we set up a non-profit and looked for sponsors. A few months later, we were cruising on the streets of Australia at 100km an hour with 37 other teams.
We came in second place that year. Not a drop of fossil fuels used. Back then, solar teams had just one event to look forward to every two years.
Who would have thought that 15 years later, a European Solar Challenge would be hosted in Belgium, the Belgian solar team would be European and World
champion, and both the king and the Federal Minister of Energy would be attending?
We didn’t. But we are happy. Because it means that the rest of the world is seeing the potential in solar energy just as we have seen it.
Every two years, over 20 teams from all across Europe make the start at the former F1 racetrack of Circuit Zolder. Each team brings along a crew of around
25 students. Around 500 brilliant young minds spend day and night, months on end working on their car. And they get to drive it once a year.
They aren’t driven by money.
They are driven by a fascination with solar technology.
And a desire to make this world a better place.
The iESC is much more than just a race to see who can engineer the best car. It’s an opportunity for these students to meet and interact. To learn, create and innovate together.
These are the people you want to shape the future of our energy landscape.
To these young minds, I would like to share some advice: Beware the golden cage.
Many of you might have heard when you were growing up: “After you finish your studies, you should get a job first. Get some experience. Build up something for a
rainy day. You can always start your own business later.”
Now, this in and of itself isn’t bad advice. Stability is great. But for young, intelligent and passionate people, a “few years of learning the ropes” can quickly turn into a cushy job with nice perks. You might even have a family and kids. Over time, your aversion to risk may only grow, and just like that your window of opportunity to be truly innovative fades away.
Growing up, I was lucky to be surrounded by people that were courageous enough to take a leap of faith. They are the innovators who showed me it was possible. I was also lucky enough to get advice from others, nearing retirement and regretting a choice they never made.
To those that have the entrepreneurial fire and are facing a cross-roads in life: talk about your ideas out loud. Surround yourself with like-minded people. And learn what you can from people who think differently. Ask for advice. And take a risk.
I truly believe that a timely and decisive bad choice beats waiting for the “perfect opportunity” every time. Because there are hardly if any real “perfect opportunities”.
Just take a first step, learn, and do better next time. I have infinitely more respect for the person that finishes last at the triathlon than the people on the side-lines judging.
To all the students racing next weekend, I hope that you make some of the best memories of your life.
And that you learn one thing.
Innovation and success are rarely the result of a single moment of genius. Most often they are the result of hard work done by a passionate team, led by a strong vision.
It’s from this learning that iLumen was born, and what we’re reminded of every time we set foot in the iESC.
Ismaël Ben-Al-Lal, vice-president 24 hours iLumen European Solar Challenge
This article is part 1 of a 2-piece series. If you haven’t already, be sure to check out the companion article on 10 years of solar innovation with iLumen here.