Innovate to Connect: towards universal access in Panama

Innovar para lograr el acceso universal

Latin America and the Caribbean has made important progress in increasing access to modern energy in the region, with the goal of reaching universal coverage by 2030, or earlier. As of 2019, 97.1% of the population has access to electricity and 88% to energy and clean technologies for cooking. However, there are still challenges given that the last mile to electrify is the most difficult: isolated communities, low density, and difficult to access, and where energy consumption is still incipient.

In the particular case of Panama, the energy access indicators show that in 2019, 93% of the population had access to electricity and 93.7% had access to energy and clean technologies for cooking. Despite these high levels, there are marked differences between access to electricity in rural areas with 81% and urban areas with 99.6%.

More than 93 thousand Panamanian families still live without access to electricity and around 66 thousand Panamanian households use open fire stoves mainly based on firewood. This affects their chances of achieving a dignified life and well-being, with education, interconnectivity, health and economic development. These differences are significantly accentuated in indigenous communities that have the least access to energy services in the entire country.

Various analyzes and experiences show how access to energy is a transversal axis for the development of communities. Providing energy services to the population improves access to education, increases the time available for new activities, contributes to the creation of productive processes, reduces the use of solid fuels and consequently the emissions of local pollutants and CO2.

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In addition, it allows the improvement of health services, such as, for example: the refrigerated storage of vaccines, among other impacts. It should be noted that the effects of not having access to energy are not equitable, with women being the most affected. Due to this, it is necessary to integrate into the programs, to facilitate access to energy services, activities and policies that help improve gender equity in the beneficiary population.

How can innovation contribute to achieving the goal of universal access?

Innovation is an opportunity to achieve the goal of universal access by 2030 through the use of new technologies, the development of new management models and the creation of multisectoral solutions. For example, the implementation of decentralized energy services is increasingly viable and allows the technical and environmental sustainability of these solutions. Solar microgrids or home energy solutions through the use of photovoltaic panels and batteries are presented as more attractive alternatives to the extension of networks or the installation of diesel or gasoline generators.

On the other hand, the integration of these solutions with communication and information technologies opens the possibility to improve the management of the systems, develop payment facilities, and increase the access of the communities to information and telecommunications. Likewise, the incorporation of communities in the development process is essential to implement solutions that adapt to their needs and provide benefits in a sustainable way. Innovation can support all these aspects of the development of energy access projects.

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Universal access to energy is one of the fundamental pillars within the vision and work of the IDB, supporting countries in the elaboration and implementation of energy access programs, in the development of public policies, sector dialogues with stakeholders of the

sector, communication of experiences in the region and other activities that promote its progress.

Open Innovation Contest for Access to Energy in Panama

The IDB together with the National Secretariat of Energy (SNE) of Panama have organized the Open Innovation Contest for Access to Energy in Panama. The purpose of the contest is to identify innovative solutions that support reaching the goal of universal access to energy by 2030. These solutions will be oriented mainly to isolated areas and low-income communities and will take into account their cross-cutting impact on social development and of these areas in a sustainable way.

From September 14 to October 17, the call that seeks to identify and support teams that have developed and tested prototypes and energy solutions that facilitate access to electricity and modern cooking will be open, contributing to the challenge of universal access to energy in Panama . Teams from any IDB member country may participate.

At the close of the call, a group of evaluators will select among 12 finalist proposals who will have the opportunity to participate in a virtual Bootcamp, which will allow them to strengthen their initiatives, interact with specialists and relevant decision makers. Then these teams will participate in a virtual event where they will present their initiatives and a qualifying jury will select the 4 winning proposals, who will be awarded and will have access to advice, networks and support opportunities for the implementation of their prototypes in disconnected communities of Panama.

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To know more information about the contest, including the bases to participate, we invite you to enter the platform www.innovarparaconectar.com

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