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SU key partner in SA’s first solar-powered desalination project
Author: Corporate Communication / Korporatiewe Kommunikasie [Alec Basson]
Published: 26/06/2018

Stellenbosch University (SU) is one of the key partners in a project to establish South Africa's first solar-powered desalination plant at Witsand in the Southern Cape. The project was initiated by Prof Erwin Schwella from the School of Public Leadership at SU and Tilburg University in collaboration with the Hessequa Municipality with whom SU has a formal Memorandum of Understanding.

Co-funded by the Western Cape Government (through its drought relief fund) and the French Treasury, the plant is expected to come online by the end of October 2018 at Witsand which was selected as the site for the project as it often suffers from critical water shortages.

The plant will produce 100kl of fresh water per day to address the normal local water requirement and will only be powered by solar energy. It will also be able to supply drinking water outside of sunlight hours through a connection to the local electricity grid. The plant will be significantly cheaper to operate as plants that rely on electricity and could deliver drinking water to many households.

In an interview on the Afrikaans-language radio station Radio Sonder Grense, Schwella said the project “forms part of an eco-innovation system that we're busy establishing to promote social innovation".

“Social innovation has to do with improving people's quality of living. We liaise with municipalities, the private sector and the province in different ways and out of this partnership we create new opportunities."

Schwella highlighted the role that Socionovus at US is playing in this regard.

He added that if the project is successful, the plan is to start similar projects in other parts of the country.

The technology for the project was developed by the French Company Mascara Renewable Water and brought to South Africa by their local partner TWS-Turnkey Water Solutions. It is the world's first reverse osmosis desalination technology coupled with photovoltaic solar energy without batteries, designed to supply coastal or borehole-dependent communities, with drinking water at a competitive price and without CO2 emissions.

Commenting on the project Hessequa Executive Mayor Grant Riddles said the partnerships between the different role-players “will ensure a green economy that aims at reducing environmental risks and ecological scarcities".

There are also solar-powered desalination plants in Abu Dhabi and Mozambique.