Agadir— Morocco doesn’t have oil, but it has plenty of sun, wind, and rivers for hydroelectric power. Now university researchers are trying to take advantage of the country’s potential for renewable energy.
Morocco spends $11 billion a year importing 91 percent of its fuel. But the Moroccan government has set the ambitious goal of producing 42 percent of the country’s energy from renewable sources by 2020. It is building a multi- million -dollar solar-energy plant, in Ouarzazate, as well as a string of wind farms. At Ibn Zohr University, in Southern Morocco, the renewable-energy laboratory uses an array of rooftop solar panels, thanks to a government grant, to generate electricity.
More universities want to develop their own renewable-energy research programs to develop this burgeoning sector but face a lack of infrastructure, funding and know-how.
Abdel Hady Bonar, vice president of Ibn Zohr University for scientific research and cooperation said “This is a national dilemma. Universities have taken huge strides forward, but […] are still on the threshold of renewable energy research.”
The director of the renewable energy lab at Ibn Zohr, Ahmed Ehelal said “The pace at which our projects are progressing is nothing compared to the pace of scientific research in the field of renewable energy worldwide.”
The focus on renewable energy also doesn’t yet seem to be creating jobs for young Moroccans, a political focus in a country with a high youth unemployment rate. Essam Mahty got his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in renewable energy at Ibn Zohr. He helped to run the laboratory powered by solar panels. He believed that big clean energy projects commissioned by the government could provide ample job opportunities for someone like him. After graduating, he visited the country’s largest solar panel array. “I also searched the Internet and sent my resume to several centers and companies,” he said. But unable to get a job in the field, he eventually decided to pursue a Ph.D. in nuclear physics.
During the past four years, students have begun graduating from Moroccan universities with majors in renewable energy, but most of them have not yet found jobs. “Most renewable energy projects in Morocco are still getting started,” said Ehlal. “These projects will begin to provide job opportunities for young researchers.”
Morocco has established a number of research centers to oversee renewable energy projects, including: the Institut de Recherche en Energie Solaire et Energies Nouvelles [The Solar and New Energies Research Institute] and the Moroccan Agency for Solar Energy to plan the operation of solar energy projects. There are many more centers and agencies, and the government is also adopting polices to promote energy efficiency. These agencies work with the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research to support scientific research in the field of renewable energy. They also cooperate with the national phosphates mining company, which helps to finance renewable energy projects.
But even with some modest funding, the challenges for universities are significant. “Research carried out in Moroccan universities needs to use local mechanisms and material instead of highly expensive imported material,” Yahia Ait Ichou, dean of the science faculty at Ibn Zohr University says. “That’s the challenge which universities have to face now, in addition to the shortage of researchers specialized in this field.”
Mubarak Fedawy, a professor at Ibn Zohr, said “We need a national strategy with set goals for the manufacture of solar panels, and scientific research needs to focus on industrial development. Partnerships should be also be created between Arab and foreign laboratories.” Researchers need support for travel to international conferences and for their research, he said.
Even with limited resources, Fedawy manages to pursue his research. He is currently working with scientists in Tunisia and Egypt on water desalination—and has pushed his students to carry out award-winning studies.
In the country as a whole, scientists estimate there are about 300 researchers, faculty and students working in the field of renewable energy. Abdel Hakeem Bou Kheneesh, a 22-year-old student in renewable energy usage techniques department in Ouarzazate said “We hope that the university will support us in the future financially and morally to promote this field and make use of the students’ ideas, which only need good governance, real support, and guidance.”
In spite of the challenges and difficulties that renewable energy research faces in Morocco, many professors and students remain optimistic. “Morocco has the capacity to be a leader in renewable-energy research,” said Bonar.
The country now needs to complement its mega projects with “more efforts on the human resources level,” he said. “As professors and researchers, we must strive to promote this field in spite of the inadequacy of resources,” Ehlal said.