Understanding the needs of water-scarce regions & how global companies are helping
I can recall, back in the early 1980s during my primary school years, being called by the headmaster of our school to attend a meeting with my fellow classmates to pray for rain. At the time, South Africa was experiencing a drought of proportions that had never been seen before. Perhaps it was indeed our prayers that ultimately saved the day, but it was clear that this was not going to be the first or the last time that the country would face a water shortage. After all, for all its renowned mineral wealth, South Africa is by no means a water rich country. On the contrary, the country can be described as water strained with a landscape that is mainly semi-desert.
Fast-forward to 2018, and the world-famous city of Cape Town is in the throes of the worst drought in its history and, in fact, on the cusp of a complete water shutdown—a world first for a major global city. This is partly—though some may argue mainly—due to political bungling and bad planning, but mostly due to the same weather pattern that previously pushed California to its knees arriving at the Cape of Good Hope. You could say, though, that the perfect recipe for disaster is in geography, environment and people.
In 2012, my good Grundfos friend Fred Van Zyl, the then-director for national water resource strategy at the Department of Water Affairs, pointed out that if the country did not “put in the necessary effort to prevent severe shortages, it could lead to serious social and economic challenges.” He made this statement at a gathering attended by representatives from the private sector, civil society, the government and the agricultural sector. At the time, he indicated that if nothing was done to tighten the laws that govern water management and if there was insufficient investment into water infrastructure or the use of technologies that promote reuse, South Africa could experience a serious water shortage by 2020. It is no surprise, then, to learn that in addition to from Cape Town, the other coastal cities of South Africa are also under water supply pressure. Worst of all, however, is the fact that the key strategic water supply to Johannesburg from the Katze Dam in Lesotho is showing extraordinarily low levels.
Grundfos has a track record of implementing pump technology in these situations and an understanding of the outcomes that would result. Even now, it is part of the group helping to find solutions for these water-scarce regions.
Today, the overwhelming majority of the desalination plants that currently exist along the South African coastline—including those providing water to towns such as Ndlambe, Plettenberg Bay and Mossel Bay—are pressurized by Grundfos technology. We’ve been doing this for years with our system-building partners around the world and, indeed, on the African continent too. The challenge of this solution has usually been the initial capital cost for a full system. The budget being quoted to solve the Cape Town problem has run into the billions of Rands. Without water, you are truly at the base of a pyramid of needs, so is there really a choice?
Not surprisingly Grundfos not only excels in the developed world market, but also is a true champion of water supply to the developing world. Building on its more than 50 years of experience in the ground-water market, it has been supplying solar-powered SQF borehole pumping systems to advanced societies and the poorest of the poor communities for more than two decades. Thousands of solar towers with pumping systems dot the planet, with at least 8,000 to 10,000 units a year going into the ground in recent years on the continent of Africa. Naturally, where there is electricity and sufficient groundwater supply, a Grundfos SP pump can deliver large volumes of water from the subterranean aquifer.
A quick discussion with our Cape Town branch Manager Hennie Hanekom reveals that we have been and currently are active in the local market, not only providing solutions to the commercial and utility end-user, but also at the private homeowner level. Many of the residents of the city are preparing for Day Zero by installing groundwater well pumps, borehole pumps and booster sets at their homes, the latter being connected to rainwater tank systems in the hope that they could be well prepared to catch what little rain may fall during this dry and trying period. We have supplied thousands of these small booster pumps and are now even flying in emergency stock to help out where we can. In fact, we’ve heard stories that people are literally standing in lines for pumps.
In the industrial market segment, we have supplied a high number of booster sets and SP borehole pumps for use in supplying water to both factories and general commercial businesses. The municipal market has been supplied with both boosting and groundwater solutions, with our BMS high-pressure units being earmarked for potentially boosting new desalination plants when the contracts are awarded. These proposed plants range from 2 million liters per day to 450 million liters per day and will bring significant relief when commissioned. The city of Cape Town and numerous private enterprises also are aggressively considering upgrades to existing wastewater treatment plants to provide recycled effluent solutions to the communities, in which Grundfos is also looking to contribute.
Whether it is helping out when there was too much water due to flooding in places such as Houston or where there is very little water in places such as South Africa, you can bet that Grundfos will be there, in much the same way it always has been.