Panama’s electrical capacity is reaching its limit, with big hydroelectric plants susceptible to changing weather patterns. Blackouts, electricity shortages and, in one extreme case, the entire education system being shut down for several days are all scenarios that are becoming more and more regular.
Electricity demand in Panama is growing by 5% every year, with demand expected to exceed supply in 7 years. With the time and finance required to increase production it is vital that Panama also tackles this issue from the demand side, by improving energy efficiency and increasing education on energy saving. Demand reduction starts with the public sector, as government ministries and public sector bodies need to show leadership by reducing their own electricity demand, to provide an example for private sector organisations to follow.
State schools in Panama are badly in need of infrastructure upgrades, whilst they are being forced to reduce their electrical load to avoid the impacts of excessive demand. New equipment and infrastructure are periodically being installed in schools, but without following set procurement guidelines taking into account energy efficiency and operating costs. Educating the pupils (and staff) to deliver practical carbon and energy reduction into their classrooms is essential for demand side reduction, and has the dual impact of spreading to families and the wider community - working with school pupils is proven to be a successful way to educate parents and families on environmental behaviour change.
The Sustainable Schools Panama Programme, funded by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office of the UK Government, ran from July 2015 until March 2016. With support from the Secretaría Nacional de Energía (Ministry of Energy) and the Ministerio de Educación (Ministry of Education), five schools were selected to receive support to help them to develop 20% energy and carbon reduction strategies. The programme focussed on two areas:
To achieve these goals, the schools received one to one technical assistance and participated in a behaviour change programme to engage pupils in carbon reduction. Through workshop-based training and one-to-one capacity building support, the programme trialled tools, materials, technical fixes and best practice. Innovative training materials and videos were created for teachers to use in lessons to engage pupils in energy reduction, available for all schools across the country to engage in.
The final stage was dissemination event held in March 2016. This event brought together the Secretaría Nacional de Energía, the Ministerio de Educación and state schools from acrocass the country. The schools involved in the Programme shared their experience and provided advice to other schools in Panama who will be able to follow in their footsteps and set and achieve their own carbon reduction targets.
To promote UK trade interests the programme drew upon the Carbon Trust’s wide portfolio of UK-based accredited suppliers, showcased world class UK expertise and created an opportunity for UK businesses to collaborate in accelerating energy efficiency in Panama. The Secretaría Nacional de Energía both inspired and helped to develop the approach, pledging co-funding through in kind expertise to ensure we embed our expertise.
Image: Instituto Rubiano
The advantages of reducing electricity demand across schools in Panama are fourfold: lowering the cost of school energy bills, decreasing Panama’s carbon emissions, reducing demand on the Panamanian electricity grid and increasing comfort levels for pupils with improved classroom infrastructure.
The learnings from this Programme can be used to inform procurement decisions and environmental engagement in schools across Panama. The replicability of this scheme also allows it to be expanded to other Central and South American countries.
Image: Escuela Gran Bretaña
View the Sustainable Schools Panama tools and resources (in Spanish).