Solar Decathlon Africa: Cool Oasis of Creativity in the Desert

November 12, 2019

You are here

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

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, was 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: a woven basket home, a sandstone fortress. 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 were 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 was plentiful. There was a sandstone riad – a traditional guest house built around a central courtyard – with a hand-carved stone wall blooming with plants. A tiled courtyard fountain cooled the air, purified the water, and used algae to produce biogas to sell. There was a squat circular home comprised of hemp walls with hemp resin panels to shield it from the hot sun. Each home employed solar technologies to power the lights, appliances, and minimal heating and cooling systems. In one home, thick walls of handmade bricks kept the interior cool. Plywood-clad walls “made by girls,” as one young woman exclaimed, served as oases for exhausted Solar Decathletes in need of rest.

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

The homes of the student teams were entered in 10 competitions in categories including Architecture, Engineering and Construction, Home Life and Entertainment, and Innovation, with winners announced on Friday, September 27, 2019. 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.