Earth Day Article

Every day is earth day! Morocco, the first Muslim and Arab country to announce the launching of an environment charter, will be inaugurating 10 long-term projects to protect the environment. The projects will soon be announced in the capital, Rabat, and will range from education in schools to ending the use of plastic bags.

Among the large projects, however, is a solar energy project that would supply the equivalent of 30% of the current electricity need in Morocco. If integrated into a single solar park, it would literally cover half of Washington, DC—roughly 35 Sq Mi. As an engineer, I revel in such numbers, especially those on such a grand scale.

Morocco is also planning for an equivalent amount of wind energy along the Western and Northern coastlines. Given the variation of wind availability in the different areas, wind energy will complement the solar energy at night. The combined energy that could potentially be produced by these two sources can be used not only for lighting and other needs, but also for water desalinization in remote areas to fight desertification. More importantly, this energy can be even used in the production of hydrogen through electrolysis. Hydrogen, although hard to store efficiently, can be used with fuel cell batteries to produce electricity for transportation and other applications. The possibilities are endless.

Another possibility that these projects can lead to is to sell excess energy to Europe using existing or additional transmission lines through the Strait of Gibraltar. If some of the investments in solar energy are made into building-integrated renewable energy, it will help the local industry by keeping a portion of the projects smaller and, hence, within reach of local entrepreneurs in Casablanca and other cities. Hopefully, the large multi-national corporations will not control all of the renewable energy projects. Even in the case where corporations do end up controlling the lion share, hopefully they will employ Corporate Social Responsibility in terms of jobs creation, sharing of technical know-how, and education in general.

All these thoughts ran through my mind as I was driving back in my Prius from Washington, DC back to my home in Virginia. After a 20 year career in energy conversion, I wished I could contribute more to Morocco, my birthplace, especially now on earth day. As I exited the HOV lane, my cell phone rang. It was a friend who wanted to talk about what to do for earth day, in celebration of Morocco’s announcement of the environment charter. My friend, who is a think tank all unto herself and we are well justified in calling her that, proceeded to propose a prodigious number of ideas as usual but then quickly settled on the best and simplest: To plant a tree.

“So be it,” I agreed.

On this earth day, thousands of miles away from our dear Morocco, we will plant a tree. We may not be able to contribute to the grandiose engineering feats that Morocco is undertaking, and we may not be able to participate on earth day in Rabat directly, but we will participate in cleaning the environment that we all share through this tree.

Mohamed Belkhayat, Ph.D.
Energy System Research
April 22, 2010