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Energy and ICT infrastructure planning and assessment

For projects of regional significance, strategic assessment in upfront planning is essential. SRK South Africa used this approach in a long-haul fibre optic data cable and a solar energy photovoltaic plant.

In 2011 FibreCo Telecommunications appointed SRK Johannesburg to undertake environmental studies for the prefeasibility and feasibility phases of a 4 000km fibre-optic network. South Africa’s heartland is deficient in fibre-optic infrastructure to meet the growing demand for connectivity between major population centers and the outside world. FibreCo’s open-access approach is revolutionary: The model increases cost efficiencies and connectivity to global services and reduces environmental disruption because it allows multiple operators to share a cable.

SRK considered the most appropriate corridors, along with institutional, environmental and social sensitivity challenges. After ruling out rail and electrical options, SRK identified sensitive biophysical, social and cultural environments, and geotechnical conditions. Early identification of sustainability issues, allowed FibreCo to anticipate environmental and social risks and push a national agenda, ensuring national government buy-in.

In 2012, with power shortages and government’s need for independent power to generate renewable energy, SRK completed an EIA of a solar power plant in the Northern Cape Province. The project, covering 700 hectares, is one of the country’s largest solar photovoltaic plants.

Despite the benefits of renewable energy, solar projects face major challenges, especially the Department of Energy’s (DoE) requirement that only projects generating 75MW be considered in the solar bid. Subsequent negotiations produced an integrated assessment of the entire project, meeting DoE’s authorisation requirements. SRK’s team aligned the various departments’ time-frames to expedite the process.

The project, located within the sensitive Succulent Karoo Ecosystem Program, needed careful environmental screening. Specialists recommended adjustments to the project to protect areas like the rare Red Lark dune habitat. Considering its scale, SRK investigated and ruled out the project’s potential impact on agriculture and mineral resources.

SRK’s approach in the initial stages, as evidenced in substantial case studies, reinforces our ability to shepherd clients through complicated authorisation processes and inform the project’s environmental soundness.

Lyn Brown:

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