Mediterranean's waves may hold key to Morocco’s clean energy future

Start-up designs device to exploit the kingdom's extensive coastline and generate energy from the sea

Moroccan entrepreneurs plan to harness sea power to generate green electricity. Photo: Biggunsband
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At Morocco’s bustling Tangier-Med Port, where the Mediterranean Sea spills into the Atlantic Ocean, waters are often rough.

As waves crash against the busy docks, two Moroccans are harnessing this energy throughout the day to power parts of Africa’s largest port by night.

They have designed a small device that can be fitted to floating docks, with buoys rising and falling as the ocean moves.

With the devices connected to generators, the vertical movements of the waves, big and small, are converted into clean electricity.

Oussama Nour and Mohamed Taha El Ouaryachi are founders of the start-up Advanced Third Age Renewable Energy Company (Atarec), which has created the prototype, known as Wave Beat.

Morocco has a vision to become Africa’s green leader, and has taken huge strides towards that goal.

In 2000, Morocco’s renewable energy capacity was 1.2 gigawatts. Today, it surpasses 5GW – and the kingdom is on track to more than double it, to 12GW, by 2030.

And Atarec is prepared to be part of this national goal.

Mr El Ouaryachi, 33, told The National that while other hydroelectric generators require installations specifically built offshore or in water bodies, Wave Beat can be attached to existing objects.

“This significantly cuts the cost of harnessing wave energy – a source of power which, unlike solar and wind, never ceases and is unaffected by weather conditions,” he said.

How it began

Long-time friends Mr El Ouaryachi and Mr Nour wanted to create a device that efficiently capitalises on Morocco’s 3,500km coastline to tap energy from the sea.

In 2019, they started Atarec and spent their savings on creating Wave Beat.

“There were many challenges and we initially faced countless difficulties to get investors to support our technology. But we pushed through,” Mr Nour said.

Since then, Wave Beat has been patented in 70 countries including Europe, the US and Japan.

It was incubated by the Tangier-Med Port.

Atarec has also either signed or is in advanced stages of talks with several other ports, Mr El Ouaryachi said.

In May 2022, the invention attracted investment from UM6P Ventures, the investment arm of Morocco’s University Mohammed VI Polytechnic.

“With this development, we are keen on taking our project further, and bring change to the lives of many,” Mr El Ouaryachi said.

Self-sufficiency and diversification

Experts believe there is a “serious need” for Morocco to diversify its energy sources and build a path towards green electricity.

Morocco was ranked by the UAE’s Energy Platform as among the top five countries in the Middle East and North Africa to generate electricity from solar power. It is one of the 10 developing countries drawing the largest investments in the renewable energy sector, according to the UN's 2023 World Investment Report.

But the kingdom still imports about 90 per cent of its energy, mainly in the form of fossil fuels.

“The volatile global market, especially the soaring prices of fossil fuels, was a key driver in Morocco’s scaling up its renewable energy projects, with the aim of achieving self-sufficiency and cutting spending,” said Amin Bennouna, an energy expert and lecturer at Cadi Ayyad University in Marrakesh.

In 2021, Morocco’s relations with its oil-rich neighbour Algeria reached a new low when Algiers cut its relations with Casablanca, halting about a billion cubic metres per year of piped gas. The gas had powered about 10 per cent of the country’s electricity.

Morocco’s renewable energy supplies soared by almost 10 per cent in 2021, a 2022 report by professional services firm Ernst and Young said.

It rose from 7.3 terawatt/hour (TWh) in 2020 to 7.9TWh in 2021.

Two solar power plants and a wind farm coming into operation since then have increased renewable’s stake in the energy market to more than 19 per cent in 2022, up from 18.5 per cent in 2020.

Morocco derives more than a third of its electricity needs from clean sources and is making steady progress towards achieving its 2030 target of 52 per cent.

“Morocco still has a long way to go, as it continues to rely heavily on imported coal,” Mr Bennouna said.

Renewable energies and sustainable development observer Mustapha El Bronzi said devices such as Wave Beat could bring significant change to the lives of Moroccans and others by harnessing clean sources of energy that are still not sufficiently used.

He said the hard tech used in the device makes it “a challenge to win over substantial funding to develop it”, but if installed across the whole of Tangier port, Wave Beat could "power a city of one million people”.

This article is published in collaboration with Egab

Updated: September 08, 2023, 9:47 AM