Clients are looking towards greener energy sources to drive groundwater abstraction and reticulation schemes in the rural parts of KwaZulu-Natal, according to the KwaZulu-Natal office of consulting engineers and scientists, SRK Consulting SA.
SRK tells Engineering News that appropriate energy technologies such as solar and wind power are becoming more popular as their efficiencies improve and their capital cost gradually becomes more affordable.
“It is imperative to make better use of renewable-energy sources as grid electricity is not available in some parts of rural KwaZulu-Natal, and the cost of grid electricity is rising steadily in any event,” says SRK associate partner and principal scientist Raven Kisten. “For these reasons, SRK is constantly investigating new applications for green energy in this sector.”
He notes that private individuals in KwaZulu-Natal are largely using solar and wind technologies owing to their improving affordability and have been effective to a point where many have isolated themselves from State-owned power entity Eskom’s power grid. Wind pumps have been used extensively in the past and will continue to be used in combination with solar installations, says Kisten.
“Currently, the deciding factor in the selection of solar-driven systems is the slightly higher initial installation cost,” he says. “However, these systems are proving to be more robust and require low maintenance.”
SRK KwaZulu-Natal has extensive experience in the environmental-impact assessment (EIA) for green energy projects, says SRK senior environmental scientist Philippa Burmeister; through this experience, SRK has gained insights into available green energy solutions that could be implemented for groundwater abstraction and reticulation schemes.
She says the shift towards greener energy is part of a global trend, as traditional fossil fuels become more expensive and greener energy technologies less so.
“In South Africa, this shift has been accelerated by concerns regarding energy supply owing to the issues Eskom has experienced,” says Burmeister.
SRK principal environmental scientist Marius van Huyssteen says there has been an upturn in the number of prospective clients emerging in the greener energy and alternative fuels sector, notably independent power producers (IPPs); SRK has already completed a few projects of this type in KwaZulu-Natal.
Van Huyssteen says projects served by SRK in the province in the past ten years have included a basic assessment for a furnace gas-to-electricity cogeneration scheme; a clean development mechanism project at calcium carbide producer SA Calcium Carbide, in Newcastle; environmental consulting and advisory services related to an IPP in a peaking power generation project; and an EIA exemption application for a gas turbine at paper producer Mondi’s pulp mill in Richards Bay.
He points out that the new National Environmental Management Act (Nema) now requires energy generation projects above a certain size to conduct an EIA and obtain the necessary authorisation before proceeding.
According to Burmeister, EIAs are triggered by thresholds specified in recent regulations, including the clearing of more than 1 ha of land for installation of solar panel arrays; the generation of over 10 MW of electricity; or the bulk storage of more than 50-million litres of water.
Failure to plan and conduct EIAs could result in significant delays in the implementation of the systems, she warns.
Understanding the New Regulations
Van Huyssteen notes that since the new Nema regulations came into effect in December 2014, it has caused a “flurry of activity”, with many existing and prospective clients unsure of the implications for current and pending environmental applications and project concepts.
“Whenever new legislation or regulations are promulgated, there are transitional arrangements that need to be understood,” he says. “For example, if a client’s application was lodged under the previous regulations, what are the implications under the new regulations?”
He says, while some changes could involve a simple matter of a timeframe or application fee, in other cases, further listed activities become relevant or may fall away completely; this affects how the information is presented, accessed and communicated in an EIA process.
“Therefore, SRK has team members that have championed this drive to understand the changes, many of which are untested with the authorities,” Van Huyssteen says, noting that the company is ably assisting clients in effectively navigating through the amended regulatory processes.