Young engineers and designers gathered at the Mohammed VI Green City complex in Ben Guerir, Morocco, in September for Africa’s first Solar Decathlon. The event presented a chance for talented young Moroccans to showcase their abilities in civil engineering and related fields. 

Africa’s first Solar Decathlon took place under the stewardship of the Moroccan Ministry of Energy, Mines, Water, and the Environment (MEMEE) and was organized jointly by the Moroccan Research Institute in Solar Energy and New Energies (IRESEN) and Mohammed VI Polytechnic University (UM6P). Students were given three weeks to complete the formidable task of building “low energy-consuming, zero net energy buildings.”

Solar Decathlon also aims to: “Educate the general public regarding responsible energy use;” “Promote the use of solar technologies;” and “Demonstrate that high performance solar homes can be comfortable, attractive and affordable.” The houses exhibited showed how it is possible to insulate, heat, and light houses with a fraction of the carbon footprint currently expended by traditional building. Students are assisted by the relevant government and university departments to ensure that they have met the requirements during the 18 months prior to the competition, leaving them with a fighting chance of being able to construct their projects in the allotted three weeks.

Contestants were graded not only on their ability to design projects that displayed an innovative use of modern technology, but also on their use of local resources and the practicability of their designs for use in the semi-arid climate of the region.

The competition itself consists of ten separate contests, testing different aptitudes, from engineering to architecture, to electrical/energy balance, to innovation. Contestants were graded not only on their ability to design projects that displayed an innovative use of modern technology, but also on their use of local resources and the practicability of their designs for use in the semi-arid climate of the region. 

The jurors deciding the competitors’ fate were from several walks of life and hailed from all over the globe, with the majority of them being from Morocco and the wider Arab world. 

Magical Skies over Ben Guerir Morocco Solar Decathlon Africa 2019 Facebook Photo

Magical Skies over Ben Guerir, Morocco. Solar Decathlon Africa 2019 (Facebook Photo)

The fact that 2019’s Solar Decathlon is Africa’s first was highly emphasized throughout the event – the contestants were required to use regional, sustainable raw materials in their constructions. However, it was not only African students who took part – as the competition website points out: “Contestants from around the globe are invited to compete in building solar-powered houses that are highly energy-efficient, affordable, and comfortable to live in.” 

All of the buildings exhibited run on solar energy. Morocco has huge potential and already boasts the world’s largest Solar Farm near Ouarzazate. It is hoped that hosting the Solar Decathlon can further increase awareness of solar energy and attract funding.

The competition made no secret of its goal of aiding the development of emerging regional countries with a vision for a positive environmental, social and economic impact across the whole of Africa. Africa is extremely rich in the resources required to build such solar energy technology and many organizers and participants spoke passionately about how much could be achieved on the continent if the potential of using decentralized solar energy to produce electricity were better understood.

One of the key purposes of Solar Decathlon is to train a new generation of talented young professionals to increase reliance on renewable energy in the North African building sector. Morocco already punches well above its weight in this areathe Kingdom is one of only a handful of countries worldwide that currently meet their sustainability targets under the Paris Climate Agreement. Those who took part spoke enthusiastically about what an opportunity Solar Decathlon was for them to think creatively and apply their knowledge. 

“I have learned more this month than I would in three years sitting in a classroom.”

“I have learned more this month than I would in three years sitting in a classroom,” one contestant told Inside Arabia

Marouane Slaitane of the TADD-ART team from The National School of Applied Sciences in Tangier, spoke to Inside Arabia about the potential of Solar Decathlon to change Morocco and the wider region. Their project, a sustainable house built in a traditional Moroccan style, won first prize in the Market Appeal category. 

Solar Decathlon Africa

A student at Solar Decathlon Africa 2019 in Ben Guerir, Morocco (Facebook Photo)

“At first, our project had the sole purpose of winning the Solar Decathlon Africa and learning in the process. But the more involved we got into the project and the more we understood the aim of the organizers, it became more of a vision of a future Morocco where houses are ecological, green, sustainable, and, most importantly, affordable,” he said. 

Slaitane also spoke of reviving “the old architectural identity that was lost in the midst of globalization and modernization,” saying that TADD-ART intends to be “a resurrection of our ancestor’s soul in the new generation.” Thus, the project forms a bridge between old and new. 

Team Bosphorus, from Istanbul, also told Inside Arabia that their project, the Reyard House, was designed to combine traditional methods with innovative new technological advances. They were awarded first prize in the categories of Innovation, Engineering, Communication and Social Awareness. For their next step, team Bosphorus intend to build an entire sustainable village back in their native Turkey.

“Solar Decathlon is also their first contact with private companies and represents a chance to demonstrate that alternative construction methods are not merely theoretical but can be applied today.”

Anna Perez Quilis, a former Solar Decathlon Competition Coordinator, told Inside Arabia: “What I like the most about the competition is that the university provides tools to its students to participate in a project where they can apply their knowledge, work on multidisciplinary tasks, and take part in something that benefits society. For many student, Solar Decathlon is also their first contact with private companies and represents a chance to demonstrate that alternative construction methods are not merely theoretical but can be applied today.”

The overwhelming theme of Solar Decathlon was continuity. Most of the finished projects are now seeking private investors, so that they can continue to develop, while others point out the importance of the state in promoting investment in sustainable construction in the public sector. 

By all accounts, this year’s Solar Decathlon was an inspiring advert for the young talent that exists in North Africa and the Middle East. All present in Ben Guerir were given a taste of what can be expected when the region’s youth are given the opportunity to thrive.