Construction is under way on a desalination plant at Strandfontein Beach. This plant will be one of several to supplement the City of Cape Town’s fresh water supply. Photo: African News Agency (ANA)
JOHANNESBURG - Spanish multinational corporation Abengoa is positioning itself for local desalination opportunities as South Africa scrambles to find solutions for the country’s water crisis.

Abengoa South Africa vice-president for business development, Dominic Goncalves, said yesterday that the company, which is best known in South Africa as one of the developers of renewable energy projects, was eyeing desalination opportunities in the country.

Goncalves said that the programme was in response to the drought that has plagued the Western Cape since last year.

“The renewable energy programme was in response to (an electricity) crisis,” Goncalves said. “Now the country is experiencing a water crisis. There is very little water to extract.”

According to the Water Research Commission, South Africa was over-exploiting its renewable water resources, with an increasing number of the country’s rivers categorised as having low flows. The Western Cape has imposed water restrictions.

In a recent report on the water shortages, the commission laid bare the extent of the crisis and proposed a number of possible solutions. These included wastewater treatment, water conservation, use of groundwater and demand management.

“If the government begins to aggressively implement measures to enhance supply and curtail demand, then it is on the edge of possibly to restore sustainability to South Africa’s water sector without resorting to extremely punitive restrictions. But, if the government fails to respond to the situation, the country could be forced to endure a situation similar to the recent energy crisis, which nearly paralysed the economy,” the commission said.

Since the launch of the Reippp programme in 2011, Abengoa has built three solar projects - Kaxu Solar One (100MW), Khi Solar One (50MW) and Xina Solar One (100MW). In the projects, Abengoa has partnered with local institutions the Industrial Development Corporation, Public Investment Corporation and local community trusts.

Criticism

Goncalves also responded to criticism that the renewable energy projects in the Reippp programme did not go far enough to stimulate local communities and ensure transfer of technical skills. He said 40percent of the $880million (R11.06billion) Xina Solar One project was spent in South Africa. He said the company strived to ensure localisation. Through the three projects, the company had made a huge positive contribution to the economy of the Northern Cape.

“Xina Solar One created 1300 jobs during construction and 80 permanent for 20 years. In terms of technology transfer (prior to the commencement of construction), there was a limited number of skilled welders. We had to upskill the welders,” he said.

Meanwhile, Goncalves said the integrated resource plan (IRP) should be subjected to “proper analysis” prior to its finalisation. This follows Energy Minister Jeff Radebe’s announcement on Tuesday that the IRP document - which determines South Africa’s long-term electricity demand and details how the demand should be met in terms of generating capacity, type, timing and cost - would be a subject of further consultations.

This is a clear departure from the posture of former energy minister David Mahlobo, who told an energy conference in December that the updated IRP document had been finalised and approved by the cabinet. This fuelled speculation that Mahlobo - who at the time had been at the helm of the energy portfolio for about two months - was rushing the approval of the energy plan in order to ensure a bigger allocation for nuclear.

- BUSINESS REPORT