A Virtual Journey to Zernez – Sustainability Workshop with Chinese Students

On April 20, Swissnex brought the SARNETZ virtual board game to China for the first time in a workshop attended by students and professors from Tongji University and Shanghai University of Electric Power. This Swiss-initiated project engaged the Chinese students to learn, debate and collaborate on the topics of sustainable development, climate change and energy transition in an interactive real case simulation.

The two teams representing their respective universities each conducted a 30-minute discussion.

Tasked with turning the Swiss mountain village into a carbon-free region, the students took on different roles representing the interests of citizens, corporate and municipal councils to come up with a cooperative strategy that would minimise carbon emission of the village at the lowest cost to the economy.

“The game reminds me of my research, which is about the simulation of regional carbon-neutral footprints and their economic impact. It is also very interesting to see how decisions are made combining different perspectives in the game. This inspires me, as an energy manager in the game, to understand others’ standpoints when we try to achieve a sustainable goal together. Teamwork is key.” reflected a student representative from Tongji University.

Based on the practical data, the game allows the students to enact impactful decisions in an immersive experience. “It is an unforgettable experience for me. At university, I barely have the opportunity to apply what I have learned in class to the real world. The SARNETZ game provided such a good chance for me to understand how things actually work on a practical level. It was inspiring to navigate through these sustainable issues with my own ideas and knowledge. I feel myself belonging to a part of this grand topic and can really make an impact.” according to the student representative from Shanghai University of Electric Power.

Prof. Uwe W. Schulz from Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts (HSLU) joined the workshop online to introduce the origin of the SARNETZ game as well as current status of Zernez. The game is initially based on the project Zernez Energia 2020 led by an interdisciplinary research team of the ETH Zürich together with private partners. HSLU has taken this real case simulation as an education tool for a broader audience, and made it user friendly and virtual, while continuously upgrading the tool to reflect ongoing progress in the village of Zernez.

Prof. Uwe W. Schulz introduced the energy structure and regarding technologies to students and provided feedback to student presentations.

The team from Shanghai University of Electric Power was announced as the winner thanks to the lower cost of their overall energy strategy, while constructive comments were given to both teams. During the discussion, Prof. Schulz pointed out that the intentional design of the game was to help participants identify priorities when searching for sustainable solutions. At the end, he also shared the latest updates on different versions of the game which would take into consideration geographical factors of different regions around the globe.

"It was gratifying to see that the solutions proposed by both teams were very similar to the actual progress in the real world, which illustrated that a universal approach could be applied by young people from different countries when it comes to balancing the interests of parties and achieving a shared goal."

The Chinese professors recognised the SARNETZ game as an innovative pedagogical approach and might apply it in their future course.

Prof. Bo Zhou, School of Electrical Engineering at Shanghai University of Electric Power, commented that the event was meaningful in bringing everyone together to raise awareness on the importance of collaboration as we move towards a greener future. The workshop allowed his students to make decisions on the air supply strategy of power system considering they already finished all the key option models of the power system. Meanwhile, Prof. Jia Liu, School of Environment Engineering at Tongji University, expressed her interest in exploring future opportunities in designing new courses for Chinese undergraduates and graduate students with Prof. Schulz.