The Carbon Trust was funded by the UK government’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office to work with state schools in Panama on energy efficiency, with support from the Panama government’s Secretaría Nacional de Energía and Ministerio de Educación.
The Sustainable Schools Panama Programme involved working with students and staff introduce improvements to school infrastructure and promote behavioural changes that will deliver a real reduction in electricity demand.
Panama’s existing electricity system is reaching its maximum capacity, with large hydroelectric plants that are susceptible to changing weather patterns. This has already resulted in blackouts, electricity shortages, and in one extreme case the shutdown of the entire education system for several days.
These challenges are becoming more urgent as electricity demand in Panama is growing by around 5 percent every year, with demand expected to exceed supply in seven years. Given the extended timescales and large amounts of money required to increase electricity generation capacity, it is vital that Panama takes action to reduce demand growth by improving energy efficiency and increasing education on energy saving.
The public sector has been taking a leadership role in demand reduction, with government ministries and other public bodies setting an example for the private sector through their own actions. Working with pupils and staff to deliver practical carbon and energy reduction does more than just save energy on school estates. It has the additional impact of spreading better energy saving behaviours and messages about the importance of demand reduction to families and the wider community. More energy efficient classroom infrastructure and improved thermal comfort levels also creates a better learning environment for students.
An initial pilot phase of the programme ran from July 2015 to March 2016. Ten schools were selected to receive support to help them develop strategies to achieve 20 percent energy and carbon emissions reduction targets. The programmes focused on two areas: introducing current best practice energy efficiency through quick win measures that can be carried out by the schools; and having an long-term impact through planning future investments and upgrades that will further improve energy efficiency.
To achieve these goals five schools received direct one-to-one technical assistance and participated in a behaviour change programme to engage pupils in carbon reduction. The remaining schools received remote support and assistance. The pilot phase helped to test and refine tools, materials, technical solutions and best practice guidance developed by the Carbon Trust.
The successful outcomes from projects are shared on the Sustainable Schools Panama Resource Centre, hosted by the Secretaría Nacional de Energía and available for all schools nationally. This will help schools to save money on energy bills, reduce carbon emissions and address Panama’s wider energy challenges. The lessons learned through the programme can be used to inform the development and replication of similar schemes in other Latin American countries.