SRK engineers, scientists support Jukskei river clean-up project

Starting at its source, exciting efforts to clean up the Jukskei River in downtown Johannesburg are gathering momentum – assisted by a range of organisations including SRK Consulting.

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SRK webinar to manage water sustainably, equitably

As part of its contribution towards managing water resources sustainably and equitably, SRK Consulting will be hosting a ‘Water for the Future’ webinar on 24 March 2021 at 12 noon South African time (GMT+2).

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Top SRK experts gather to integrate climate change services

As climate change climbs the rankings of business risk, SRK Consulting recently gathered over 50 of its specialists in a virtual workshop to integrate and strengthen its climate change services.

Organised by SRK’s South African Climate Change Reference Group led by Ashleigh Maritz, Philippa Burmeister and Lisl Pullinger, the two-day event included nine parallel sessions discussing over 20 topics.

“Climate change mitigation and adaptation are placing growing demands on businesses in every sector, and on governments.”

SRK Principal Sustainability Consultant Lisl Pullinger

“It is raising social, environmental and governance risks, and threatening economic activity with a range of possible disruptions across the globe.”

Senior Environmental Scientist Ashleigh Maritz highlighted that SRK’s engineers and scientists have for many years been developing tools to monitor and benchmark these risks, and to address them in client’s operations. Key to these efforts has been SRK’s strategic commitment to collaboration.

“Integration between the various disciplines and skill sets of our professionals is really vital in addressing climate change,” she said, “as destabilised weather patterns have countless impacts on every aspect of social and economic life.”

The company’s focus in continuously developing its range of services is to ‘mainstream’ the consideration of climate change in project planning and execution. Critical fields such as water management, environmental impact, infrastructure capacity, social vulnerability and mine tailings design are demanding more attention than ever.

“Our recent workshop explored many of these vital areas, including greenhouse gas accounting, water stewardship, community adaptation, green mine design, tailings management, climate change impact assessment and disaster prevention and management,” said Principal Scientist in Air Quality and Climate Change Philippa Burmeister.

The company’s extensive service offering helps clients to build resilient infrastructure, by posing a range of climatic conditions or design criteria to assess vulnerability and improve resilience. Clients are also assisted with emergency response plans, and with contingency solutions to minimise the consequences of an event.

“A field of particular interest within SRK is the use of data management tools, which capture data efficiently and automate processes such as greenhouse gas (GHG) calculation,” said Burmeister. “The company also uses advanced computing and data science to predict potential climate-change risks and inform design. We combine this approach with a wide suite of professional services, helping clients generate and apply an effective mitigation and adaptation strategy.”

The success of the South African event has led to SRK planning a global workshop in 2021 that will virtually engage specialists from SRK’s offices on all six continents.

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Gas-to-power options emerge on South African energy scene

As South Africa races against the clock to fill an electricity supply gap of some 2 000MW between 2019 and 2022, gas-to-power projects will play a significant role.

Government’s recently launched risk mitigation independent power producer procurement programme (RMIPPPP) has stirred the interest of a number of private players in the gas-to-power sector, according to Nicola Rump, principal environmental scientist at SRK Consulting.

“While the longer-established renewable energy independent power producer procurement programme (REIPPPP) is delivering considerable results in solar and wind energy generation, we are now seeing an exciting start in exploring the potential of gas in South Africa’s energy mix,” says Rump.

She notes that the field of gas-fired generation in the country has previously seen little activity from private developers. This was now changing fast, as the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy prepares to begin evaluating RMIPPPP project bids by the end of 2020. With South Africa’s power system being so constrained, government is wanting these projects to start feeding the national grid by mid-2022. SRK is currently conducting a number of environmental impact assessments (EIAs) for gas-to-power projects in the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal.

Key aspects of the planning process for these projects, she says, include EIAs and related licencing requirements. Within the tight timeframes envisaged, these need to be carefully managed to avoid becoming stumbling blocks.

“The introduction of strict timelines for the EIA process in recent years means that while EIAs are generally completed in less time than before, the process leaves very little time for accommodating any changes to the project design.”

Nicola Rump, principal environmental scientist at SRK Consulting

It also requires that a significant amount of work must be completed before the application is actually lodged with the regulator. “Gas-to-power projects need to submit a final scoping study to the Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries (DEFF), and this must be approved before the EIA phase can begin,” Rump says. “Once the final environmental impact report (EIR) has been submitted, DEFF would decide on the conditions applying to the authorisation.”

While an important attraction of gas is its lower carbon footprint than coal, South Africa’s dominant fuel source for energy, it is not without its environmental impacts. These include carbon emissions, for which projects would require an air emission license before proceeding.  

“Climate change impacts are also becoming an increasingly important consideration in these assessments,” said Rump, “especially in the light of South Africa’s commitments to global climate change and greenhouse gas emission agreements – and its emission reduction targets.”

Other impacts include noise and traffic, as well as effects on the marine ecology of those projects requiring marine infrastructure. Currently, gas-to-power projects tend to be close to ports to facilitate the supply chain from sea-borne liquified natural gas (LNG).

She noted that current projects will have to overcome South Africa’s lack of gas pipeline infrastructure, basing their viability on LNG sources being shipped in. Among the advantages of developing a fledgling gas-to-power sector through the RMIPPPP is that this would contribute to the growth of local gas markets – helping pave the way for the installation of costly gas infrastructure. This is turn would hopefully reduce the cost of gas as a fuel and spur the uptake of this cleaner fuel in South Africa’s energy landscape.

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Professional women forge pathways into mining

While the mining sector may lag behind many other industries in its inclusion of women, there are plenty of examples of highly skilled professional women making their mark in the technical consulting field

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How to achieve shorter water-use licence process

Achieving a 90-day turnaround for the water-use licence application (WULA) process will be a welcome step for the struggling economy, according to SRK Consulting principal scientist Jacky Burke.

Changes will be necessary, though, before the regional and national offices can make a 90-day process a reality, Burke noted.

“It remains vital that the licences issued in this 90-day process will in fact still serve the purpose of protecting our water resources; this means the licence cannot be too generic but should be specific to the activity or operation being authorised, and take into account the specific catchment requirements,” she said. “A shorter processing window is certainly the right approach to support getting our Covid-impacted economy back on its feet.”

Jacky Burke principal scientist SRK Consulting

She said it would also provide real socio-economic benefit to water users – particularly emerging water users – and surrounding communities.  

The Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS) recently revised the regulations on WULA procedures, following a State of the Nation declaration by President Cyril Ramaphosa in February. He announced that water-use licences should be processed in 90 days, rather than the 300 days prescribed by previous regulations.

“Changes to facilitate implementing this new timeframe could include increased engagement between the applicant and the DWS before submission,” she said. “This would allow a review of completed supporting information and designs before the actual submission, so that the 90-day timeframe is focused on final review and administrative aspects.”

Improving the administrative process of compiling the licence could also involve reducing the cumbersome on-line WULA form process into a standardised water use information template, said Burke.

“Such a template could be used to directly generate a populated licence document, without the need to manually recapture the on-line information into the licence format,” she said. “Additional human resources – combined with IT improvements – would also facilitate the effective implementation of a 90-day process for all water use sectors.”

She noted that an ongoing consultative and supportive process between the DWS, applicants, and consultants would also help to fast-track the achievement of a streamlined 90-day application process.  

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Covid-19 calls for ‘balanced’ strategy for technical audits

Engineering projects face a growing range of audits, assessment, and monitoring, but will Covid-19 restrictions on movement make it difficult for consultants to carry out this vital work?

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