Meet the Moroccan PEER Grantees: Mounir Ghogho

Monday, July 24, 2017
Mounir Ghogho, a researcher from the International University of Rabat, is looking at ways to deal with overload of solar energy grids during peak hours.
M. Ghogho

Partnerships for Enhanced Engagement in Research (PEER) is a USAID program that is implemented by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences to award grants to scientists in developing countries who partner with U.S. collaborators on research activities with a strong potential development impact. USAID awarded two grants of approximately $250,000 each to Moroccan scientists working on clean energy.  Below are interviews conducted with the two researchers, who give the latest updates to their projects.

Mounir Ghogho - Solar Energy Management

Meet Mounir, a researcher from the International University of Rabat, who is partnering with Paul Flikkema from Northern Arizona University to look at ways to deal with overload of solar energy grids during peak hours.  This grant is also supported by Planet NI, a signature program of National Instruments.

Q: Can you explain your research to me?

A: We are using renewable energy captured in rural areas (because there is no electrical grid) with the goal to improve or increase the penetration of solar energy in urban areas. The first question: how do we go about this? First, we want to understand the electricity consumption of Moroccan households, which must happen before we can design any system. We are doing this by deploying acquisition systems in different households to record energy consumption. We will use this data to analyze and guide the design of a solar energy-based system for urban areas. We need a representative sample of electricity consumption profiles, therefore we will collect in both poor and rich areas of 100 different households. In general, poor income households buy cheaper equipment, which is not good for the electricity grid, thus costing money to the utility provider.

The second stage is how should we design a solar energy-based system for Moroccan buildings. We are learning from the experiences of other countries, like Germany where they promoted renewable energy to the point where the surplus of unused energy on the grid was causing blackouts.  Now, Germany is encouraging households  to invest in batteries to store energy for later use. There is a financial incentive to invest in batteries because we do not want to repeat the same mistake. Our system will use a battery to store excess energy instead of injecting it into the grid without going over maximum capacity.  The goal is to design a system likely to be adopted in Moroccan households that caters to the people, not just a system for the lab.

Q: How did you hear about the PEER grant program?

A: There was a workshop organized by UNICEF here in Rabat and the woman in charge of the National Academy of Science in the U.S. told us about the PEER grants program with only two weeks to [go before] the deadline. We rushed to prepare our proposal and it ended in success!

Q: Since you have started, what challenges have you faced, and how have you tried to overcome them?

A: The main challenge that we have here has nothing to do with the PEER program, but when we buy equipment. Here in Morocco, it is quite difficult and is a long process. In the UK, it takes less than a week. Generally in Morocco, suppliers don't have the equipment and need to order from abroad, which takes at least a month. Adding the administrative part here, the delay, the time that they need to get the equipment from abroad, and customs keeping the equipment for a while, it takes quite a long time to receive the needed equipment. For example, we are supposed to have employed the acquisition systems but we are still waiting for the equipment to come. This is not just for this PEER project, but for all projects I have coordinated thus far in Morocco.

Q: Why is your research important to the average Moroccan citizen?

A: The more obvious reason being to protect the environment by reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The second being to make Morocco an energy independent nation. The challenge is obviously financial because we have to invest in solar panels and the accompanying system. This is where the government has to come in and provide financial incentives for the citizens. Our project is meant to test a shift to solar energy in Morocco and I am hoping that the cost will continue to go down so that it may become affordable to citizens. If you put solar panels on each roof and then if we combine the generation of all this energy, we can generate a lot of energy…

Q: Can you explain a bit more why you want the energy to store it in batteries and inject it in the grid?

A: We want to minimize [injecting it in the grid] because the surplus is wasted; the battery will store the energy for the evening and then allow part of the energy to be injected [into the grid]. How can we design a battery to fulfil the needs of our community and minimize the injection to the grid? This is what our research is meant to discern.

Q: How difficult is it to store the energy?

A: The challenge is to invest in batteries. In the solar farms that we have in Kenitra, having batteries is not economically viable. That is why we don't have batteries in solar farms.  Return of investment would be negative and is not viable for big solar farms. However, for households, it makes sense because the cost is shared and the battery is not huge … we are talking about six solar panels on the roof. The idea is to store the surplus, and when there is not enough, you can get it from the grid.

Q: So far, how has your experience with PEER and USAID  been?

A: We are only six months into our project, and so far my experience has been brilliant!  I appreciate the involvement of USAID. When we have questions, we receive a nearly immediate response. Both partners have shown that there is interest not only in giving money, but that they also care about what we are doing. The interest and involvement in conducting this interview is another piece of evidence. I hope that there will be more opportunities for collaboration and I know that most funding organizations are not as involved, so yours is much appreciated.

Q: Is there any advice you could lend to aspiring scientists or researchers?

A: I think that one has to do research that is useful, that has an impact on society. All research you may argue is useful in the long term, but in Morocco we need to do research that has immediate high societal impact in order to contribute to the development of the country. My second piece of advice is to focus on something specific and to try and maintain measurable contributions. Without focus, it is difficult to discern useful scientific conclusions.