Technical transformation to promote the energy transition in Panama

Last updated: 2 August 2023

The government of Panama is prioritising energy security and the diversification of the energy mix in its transition to a low-carbon economy, with a focus on promoting renewables, efficiency and electro mobility. By 2024, Panama’s Energy Transition Agenda (ATE) plans to reach 4.3% of distributed generation (DG) installed capacity, up from 1% today, and to reach 1 700 MW installed DG capacity in 2030. It also plans to increase electro mobility penetration to 10% in 2024.

Achieving these goals is predicated on creating 15 687 net additional clean energy jobs by 2024, which would lead to a 0.4% reduction in the overall unemployment rate. Of the total additional jobs created, 15.9% would be direct employment in the energy sector and the remaining 84.1% would be indirect jobs, distributed throughout the economy.

Reaching decarbonisation targets and realising the green job creation potential will require skills training for technicians who can work in these new sectors. The private sector in Panama – in particular the Association of Car Dealers of Panama, the Panamanian Chamber of Solar Energy (CAPES) and the Panamanian Society of Engineers and Architects – has expressed concern about the lack of technical capacity in the country. Vehicle importers are expected to meet a goal of 25%- 40% private vehicle sales to be EVs in 2030, but have identified a risk that the country will not have enough personnel to maintain them. Moreover, a lack of local capacity will make it difficult to increase the infrastructure of charging stations at the required pace. Similarly, CAPES identifies a key aspect for distributed generation growth is the training and retraining of electrical technicians who can guarantee the installations, thus providing security for the development and growth of the technology. It is estimated that the installation of DG can create up to 3 000 jobs by 2030, with 450 permanent jobs. However, many municipalities do not have sufficiently trained personnel with knowledge of DG, so it is necessary to hold technology training seminars, evaluate technical and university curricula related to distributed energy, develop programmes to instruct trainers, and create new DG training programmes.

In response, the National Energy Secretariat (SNE) of Panama, with the technical cooperation of the Inter-American Development Bank, is embarking on a training programme for clean energy in 2022, in particular for electro mobility and distributed generation. The programme, launched in collaboration with the country’s two main educational institutions and the private sector, will be implemented through an itinerant mobile classroom to promote the country's energy transition with the participation of the private sector. The programme will be focused on retraining mechanics and technicians from traditional energy sector areas in new capacities on electro mobility and distributed generation, especially for maintenance of EVs, distributed energy installation and EV charging stations. Both training programmes (for EV mechanics and DG and EV charging technicians) are based on a preliminary survey, carried out with the private sector, to identify potential beneficiaries, as well as to estimate the current and projected demand for professionals by the private sector. The survey also allows for the adjustment in format, schedule and content of the training programmes to better align with the needs of the workers to improve learning and limit drop-outs. 

Specifically, the training programme will be led by SNE and developed in coordination with the country’s two main educational institutions and the private sector, covering: (i) retraining of vehicle mechanics to be qualified to maintain EVs and (ii) training of technicians in energy auditing, distributed generation installation, and installation of charging stations for EVs. The training programme will use virtual classes, and a mobile classroom that can travel to various cities and communities to teach the practical parts of the technical courses. This virtual format will be designed based on lessons learned from the Solar Bus Program, where a mobile classroom was used for the Termosolar Panama project that teaches a course on the installation and maintenance of solar water heater systems, developed by the National Institute for Professional Training and Training for Human Development (INADEH). 

For the selection of candidates, prioritisation for elderly and unemployed technicians is included as well as for current workers in the fossil fuel sector. Consistent with the government’s objective of mainstreaming gender equality in the energy sector, these programmes will also have an expanded diversity approach, to help close the existing employment gap, training both women and people with disabilities. 

To achieve sustainability and scaling-up of the training programme, work will also be undertaken with public education and training institutions. The training programme will be developed with INADEH, together with the Superior Technical Institute (ITSE). This will allow the programme to reach a larger group of participants, without imposing logistical costs on beneficiaries. Toward this end, a curriculum will be prepared for each of the trainings and teachers who will be trained first, with the aim that the programme can continue to be taught by both institutions even after the financing of the technical cooperation ends.

The training activities will be developed based on four components: 1) design of a re-training programme for mechanics and vehicle technicians, with the objective to provide them with the necessary skills to maintain and repair EVs; 2) design of a training programme for technicians in energy auditing, installation of DG and installation of charging stations for EVs; 3) pilot implementation of the training programme in at least four locations through virtual classrooms and the mobile classroom; and 4) monitoring and evaluation to support the administration on technical cooperation.

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