Panama switches on to energy-saving light bulbs

PANAMA CITY (Reuters) - Panama plans to hand out 6 million energy-saving light bulbs, nearly two per citizen, to ease soaring demand for electricity and prevent future blackouts, President Martin Torrijos said on Monday.

“Operation Light Bulb” will require the government to buy $13 million worth of fluorescent energy-saving bulbs replacing the less-efficient incandescent ones.

Following similar programs in Cuba, Venezuela, Europe and Australia, Torrijos said savings from the new bulbs would equate to constructing a 60-megawatt power plant for a tenth of the price.

In recent years Panama’s energy providers have struggled to keep pace with demand caused by the country’s rapid economic growth, as Panamanians buy more electrical goods.

In May, Panama City was hit by a series of electricity blackouts as demand peaked.

Panama says it is building 15 energy generation facilities to provide an additional 745 megawatts to the national grid from around 2012.

The first batch of 3 million light bulbs will arrive in Panama later this month and will be distributed for free in poor suburbs of Panama City.

Reporting by Andrew Beatty, editing by Matthew Lewis