A Moroccan University Takes Solar-Powered Steps Toward a Smart Campus
Step by step, one solar canopy or e-bike charging station at a time, Morocco’s Ibn Tofail University is steadily transforming itself into a “smart” campus that relies primarily on renewable energy sources to power its facilities.
By adopting and implementing several promising development and environmental projects for the production renewable energy, the university has already managed to reduce the campus’s energy bills by nearly half.
“The university’s tasks should not be limited only to teaching and scientific research. It should also be a medium for strategic scientific vigilance and technology transfer,” said Azzedine El Midaoui, the president of the university, which is located in Kenitra, in northwestern Morocco. “The university must be a source for advanced technology production. It must take the lead in this area,” he added.
Started in 2016, the university’s renewable-energy projects are diverse, including facilities for electric power production and wastewater treatment, all of which employ the expertise of the university’s academics and involve students in their implementation.
“The project contributes to educating students and professors about the importance of reducing the use of cars and motorcycles to reduce air pollution.”Azzedine El Midaoui
The president of Ibn Tofail University
The university’s interest in solar energy projects comes as part of a broader push by the Moroccan government for the entire kingdom to rely more on renewable energy sources, as it seeks to reduce power consumption by 20 percent by 2030. In 2016, the government launched the Noor Concentrated Solar Power Plant near the southern city of Ouarzazate. With two million solar panels and covering an area of 3,000 hectares (about 11 square miles), the facility is the largest solar complex of its kind in the world and can produce enough electricity to power one million homes.
Saving Energy and the Environment
The university’s project is ambitious, too. It aims to preserve the environment, reduce energy consumption and produce its own clean energies.
El Midaoui explains that the project has several objectives, most notably to cover an important percentage of the campus’s energy needs. “We are now able to cover 45 to 50 percent of the campus energy needs through solar energy,” he said.
One of its strategies involves placing photovoltaic panels on canopies over parking lots to produce solar power, including one station equipped with eco-friendly electric cars and bikes.
The university is also working on a “smart library” project that will be the first of its kind in Morocco, El Midaoui added. The library will depend completely on renewable energies.
The project with the electric vehicles combines the concepts of electromobility and solar energy.
University professors and students can use the bicycles and cars for transportation on the campus, using cards designated for this purpose. The vehicles are returned to the station to be recharged automatically.
“The project contributes to educating students and professors about the importance of reducing the use of cars and motorcycles to reduce air pollution,” El Midaoui said.
It also constitutes a place for practical training and research.
In another project, the university is installing smart benches with solar panels that produce, store and provide clean electric energy for use throughout the day, seven days a week. Students can use the benches for studying or relaxing—or charging their computers, tablets and mobile phones.
The university administration also worked in cooperation with two French companies to establish a solar-energy-based water treatment plant using membrane technologies, allowing treated water to be reused for irrigating green spaces on the campus.
Extensive Student Engagement
University students contributed to the planning, implementation and follow-up of the project.
Oumaima Choukai, a graduate of the university’s Faculty of Electrical Engineering and Renewable Energy, recalls the beginning of the project years ago when she was still a student and was assigned to work on the project, as its topic intersected with her graduation project.
“We completed an energy review for the university at the time, identified the needs, and proposed ideas for solutions to rationalize energy consumption for the university complex as a whole through self-production of electric power using solar energy,” she said.
The young engineer believes that the project achieved, within four years, the goals for which it was launched, including covering a large percentage of the university’s power consumption. “We are currently working on sub-projects related to renewable energies, the latest of which is the university’s smart library project,” she added.
“We completed an energy review for the university at the time, identified the needs, and proposed ideas for solutions to rationalize energy consumption for the university complex as a whole through self-production of electric power using solar energy.”Oumaima Choukai
A graduate of the university’s Faculty of Electrical Engineering and Renewable Energy
Choukai is still following up on the project and contributing to its development. She is currently working in charge of projects of energy efficiency, renewable energies and electromobility at Ibn Tofail University.
In turn, Najib Labayaz, a renewable energy and environment expert, believes that the university’s project “is a pioneer at the national level, a successful investment for the university in renewable energies.” It also “provides a model for an institution that achieves sustainable development standards in its energy and environmental dimensions,” he added.
[Enjoying this article? Subscribe to our free newsletter.]
Labayez pointed out that the project is in line with the state’s general strategy in sustainable development and is compatible with the sunny climate and energy resources available in western Morocco.
“The project provides students with training opportunities to implement and manage projects and to test their ideas on the ground,” he said. “This is a golden opportunity that is not available to everyone.”