Entering a prestigious, international competition like Shell Ideas360 alongside teams of aspiring engineers could be daunting for a solo business studies student, but for Daniel it was the obvious next step in the pursuit of his energy ambitions.

Shell Ideas360 was developed to give inspiring young minds the opportunity to transform ingenious ideas into tangible, world-changing energy solutions. And Daniel saw the competition as the perfect place to unveil his innovative concept.

"Did you know collecting solar energy from just 1% of the globe’s entire ocean surface could power the world?"

Daniel asked a very simple question about harvesting solar energy: if we’re limited by the amount of space we have on land, as Daniel's home country Singapore is, why don’t we put solar panels in the middle of the ocean?

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"Is it possible to build huge solar farms in the ocean?"

The principle was sound. But traditional solar panels – which can be up to the size of a soccer pitch – wouldn’t survive long against strong oceanic swirls and stormy blasts, and pose a major hazard to aquatic life and shipping.

“I wondered, ‘what if we could break apart these huge solar panels into smaller units?’” he continues.

Daniel drew up a plan to create millions, perhaps billions, of small, floating solar energy receptors, which he called ‘SeaShrooms’, and pitched his vision to Shell Ideas360.

"They helped me to see that we’re not talking about an energy switch, but an energy transition."

During the judging rounds, senior Shell assessors loved the idea’s creativity and resourcefulness, and shortlisted him to present it at the finals in London. Along the way, they collaborated with Daniel to refine his submission, and help him to look at it from different perspectives.

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For example, he began to see that the financial and environmental cost of using so many lithium batteries to store the harnessed energy would likely hold his project back. His Shell assessors suggested he look at hydrogen as an energy storage and carrier solution, or even freshwater algae. He also realised that his idea had broader potential beyond harnessing solar power such as using the units for communications.

Moreover, Daniel’s assessors gave him a way of looking at his invention as a small part of the bigger energy solution.

“They helped me to see that we’re not making an energy switch, but an energy transition,” he says. “I think that was one of the most fundamental principles of Shell Ideas360 that I took home. I saw these Shell leaders as people that know their stuff - that are genuinely committed to communicating the energy transition to the world around us.”

"Technologies buy us valuable time to address the bigger energy challenge. I wanted to be part of a far bigger solution."

“I was blown away by the internal culture and how I was supported during the programme,” says Daniel. “I thought that working with a major corporate wouldn’t suit me. I thought I’d get a job with a small start-up.

“But Shell Ideas360 opened the door and changed my perception of Shell. I saw these brilliant technologies like carbon capture and sequestration working together. I saw that they buy us valuable time to address the bigger energy challenge. I wanted to be part of a far bigger solution.”

From a personal perspective, the Shell Ideas360 experience showed Daniel a different side of the energy industry.

“I found that Shell reflected all my ethical and environmental values.”

Daniel made a choice to help the world move forward in a new way - by being a part of Shell and assisting its efforts to transition towards cleaner forms of energy. Now working for Shell’s Communications team in an external relations role, much of his work involves sending a positive message to other young innovators.

“I found that Shell reflected all my ethical and environmental values,” he says. “I appreciate how Shell is structured to keep ethics in check, and how there is value in what we bring to society. To anyone thinking about working in the energy industry or applying to a programme like Shell Ideas360, I’d say go for it! You might be surprised by what you learn.”

Indeed, the idea from this year’s Shell Ideas360 competition, - which won the JudgesJudges' Choice award, - was from Team Smart of the University of Texas' Team Smart, another innovator in solar technology. Daniel had this to say about Team Smart’s spring-based tracking system for solar panels:

“I’m impressed and inspired by the simplicity and elegance of Team Smart’s solution. I can’t wait to see it replace expensive and resource-intensive servos to position solar panels worldwide.”

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