Western Cape officials said recent rainfall has boosted dam levels to fifty percent but the water crisis could not be considered over. File picture: Henk Kruger / ANA

Cape Town - French Minister of State for Ecology Nicolas Hulot on Monday announced that Paris would co-fund the first solar-powered desalination plant in the Western Cape, in the small town Witsand in Hessequa Municipality.

Funding for the R8.6 million project is split evenly between France and the Western Cape government.

"The plant in Hessequa is a model that will be reproduced in France and South Africa," Hulot told a briefing at the Western Cape government offices.

He said the technology used here had cleared the obstacle of using fossil fuel derived energy to charge batteries that traditionally operated desalination projects. Instead, the plant is activated directly by solar panels.

"We have the same challenge in France. Desalination is one of the solutions but it came at a cost... you will increase global warming if you drink water produced with using fossil fuels."

Project manager Patrice Boyer said the plant will be up and running in October, pumping water into an existing reservoir in Hessequa from where gravity will feed it into households in Witsand, a hamlet with a population of a few hundred people, some 250 kilometres east of Cape Town.

Hessequa was chosen as a pilot site because it has existing infrastructure, he said.

Boyer explained that the plant will shut down and start automatically, depending on available sunlight. It will produce an average of 100 kilolitres of potable water a day. 

"If a cloud passes, you hear it slowing down. Then afterwards, it speeds up."

The technology is produced by French renewable water company Mascara and uses reverse osmosis desalination run by photovoltaic solar energy, thereby allowing plants to run off-grid. The first plant to use the technology was set up in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates in 2016. Another has been commissioned on the Pacific island of Bora Bora and there are six in operation in Mozambique's Gaza province.

Boyer said there were plans for a similar plant about to be established in Cap Verde.

The funding for the Hessequa project is part of an as-yet undisclosed sum of assistance from France to the Western Cape as the region battles the worst drought in living memory.

Western Cape officials said on Monday recent rainfall has boosted dam levels to fifty percent but the water crisis could not be considered over.

African News Agency (ANA)