East London Port Launches Solar-Powered Desalination Plant

Innovative Project Boosts Water Supply, Supports Local Economy

by Ikeoluwa Juliana Ogungbangbe

The Port of East London, South Africa’s only river port, is set to host a groundbreaking renewable energy project—a solar-powered water desalination plant. This initiative, spearheaded by the Transnet National Ports Authority (TNPA), aims to bolster the reliability of freshwater supply at the port and marks a significant step towards sustainable development.

TNPA recently awarded a R60 million contract to a joint venture consisting of Norland Civil Engineers and Contractors and Impact Water Solutions (PTY) Ltd (IWS), operating under the name Sun Water East London. The contract is for the construction and operation of the desalination plant over a span of seven years, highlighting TNPA’s commitment to enhancing its utilities supply resilience by 2029. Phyllis Difeto, the acting Chief Executive of TNPA, emphasized the strategic nature of this project. “The introduction of this alternative water solution aligns with our strategic plan to decrease dependency on external water sources and increase our resilience in utilities supply,” Difeto explained. The project is not just a functional enhancement for the port but also a proactive measure in the face of increasing water scarcity issues.

The new facility is designed to produce 0.5 mega litres (ML) of potable water per day, converting seawater into drinking-quality water. This capacity is crucial for meeting the daily operational needs of the port and its users, ensuring a constant and reliable water supply. The adoption of solar power for the desalination process not only aligns with global renewable energy trends but also promises significant cost savings in operations.

Impact Water Solutions brings a wealth of experience to the project, having specialized in the integration of renewable energy solutions with innovative water technologies. The company has been involved in numerous projects across South Africa, focusing on developing and managing decentralized water infrastructure that is both sustainable and efficient. Norland Construction, the other half of the joint venture, is known for its expertise in heavy civil engineering projects including concrete reservoirs, pipelines, and irrigation systems. Their contribution to the project will encompass all aspects of construction, leveraging their high engineering standards and state-of-the-art equipment to ensure top-quality results within the project timeline.

“This partnership not only underscores our commitment to sustainability but also to economic empowerment within the community,” said a spokesperson from Transnet. Norland Construction’s adherence to high empowerment standards is reflected in its Level 1 B-BBEE scorecard, an indicator of its commitment to contributing positively to the local economy. The project is expected to create approximately 100 direct and indirect jobs, with potential for more during the peak periods of project execution. This will provide a significant economic boost to the East London community, offering job opportunities and fostering local development.

The solar-powered desalination plant at the Port of East London is a pioneering project in South Africa, setting a precedent for other ports and communities across the nation to follow. By combining advanced water processing technologies with renewable energy, TNPA is not only addressing the immediate needs of the port but is also paving the way for a sustainable and resilient future. This initiative is a model of how infrastructure development can harmonize with environmental stewardship, promoting sustainability at both the local and national levels.

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