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Solar Decathlon Africa: Cool Oasis of Creativity in the Desert

Friday, October 4, 2019

By Holly Carr

It took three weeks for a Solar Village to rise in the desert of Morocco. Benguerir, a town of about 100,000 people one hour north of Marrakesh, is home to the first ever Solar Decathlon Africa. Across the hot, red landscape, university students in bright yellow vests rushed here and there, pounding hammers and running saws to put finishing touches to the structures — 18 homes powered by renewable energy.

Although construction of the Solar Village took less than a month, Solar Decathlon Africa has been years in the making. The effort began with an agreement signed by the U.S. Department of Energy, the Moroccan Ministry of Energy, Mines and Sustainable Development, the Mohammed VI Polytechnic University, and IRESEN – Morocco’s renewable energy laboratory and host of Solar Decathlon Africa. Eighteen teams of undergrads and graduate students have been competing to design and construct homes that marry traditional architectural designs and strategies with renewable energy technologies.

Variety in the designs of the homes in the Village is plentiful. There is a sandstone riad – a traditional home built around a central courtyard – with a hand-carved stone wall blooming with plants. In another home a tiled courtyard fountain cools the air, purifies the water, and uses algae to produce biogas to sell. There is a squat circular home comprised of hemp walls with hemp resin panels to shield it from the hot sun. Each home employs solar technologies to power the lights, appliances, and minimal heating and cooling systems. In one home, thick walls of handmade bricks keep the interior cool.

The Solar-ution team won third place at the inaugural Solar Decathlon Africa. Image courtesy Stacy Hunt.

 

Of the 18 teams participating, 16 are collaborations between universities, often spanning time zones, continents, and languages. These partnerships enable students and professors to forge friendships and develop a network of professional contacts that will extend into their careers.

The homes compete in 10 contests as part of the Solar Decathlon, including Architecture, Engineering and Construction, Home Life and Entertainment, and Innovation. Competition winners were announced at the Closing Ceremony on Friday, September 27, 2019. Congratulations to first-place winner Interhouse; second-place team Bayti_Akhdar; and third-place team Solar-ution.

The homes in the Solar Village will remain in Benguerir to serve as housing for visiting scholars and as living laboratories for future research.

DOE congratulates the student teams, faculty, organizers, and many volunteers who have worked tirelessly to bring this first Solar Decathlon Africa to life in Morocco.

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