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Providing Global Expertise in Africa

Publication: City of Tshwane
Issue: May 2017

Though it may be a global company in terms of operational footprint – with offices and projects in North and South America, Europe, Asia, Australia and Africa – Knight Piésold remains strongly grounded in its home country.

Founded in 1921, it is the oldest consulting engineering firm in South Africa and has, over the last 96 years, staved off buy-outs by international behemoths to remain a truly independent and proudly South African organisation. While the firm initially cut its teeth in the mining sector, it organically expanded to become a multidisciplinary consulting firm of distinction.

Headquartered in Rivonia, Sandton, Knight Piésold has four other branches in South Africa, with a key office situated in the City of Tshwane and specialising in hydropower and geotechnical engineering.

Hydropower Engineering
The Dams and Hydropower Unit is a relatively new addition to the Tshwane branch, having started operations in March 2017. The team working in the unit, however, could not be more experienced and consists largely of engineers who were working in the Rivonia head office. The reasons for the shift are that a number of the firm’s dam engineers and the Department of Water and Sanitation – a major client – are based in Tshwane.

Knight Piésold has long been a pioneering force in the field of hydroelectric power and its expertise in hydropower and dam engineering has seen the firm play an important role in some of Southern Africa’s most significant water engineering projects.

In South Africa, Knight Piésold was closely involved in Eskom’s 1 333 MW Ingula Pumped Storage Scheme – one of the largest hydroelectric development of its kind in Africa. This comprised the construction of the upper Bedford Dam and Lower Bramhoek Dam. Michael Plichta, principal geotechnical engineer and regional manager: Tshwane, explains the firm’s multiple roles: “At Ingula, the joint venture partners were responsible for project management, dam type selection, geotechnical investigations, dam design, tender construction documents, construction supervision and the compilation of an O&M manual.”

Beyond its massive scale, the project was recognised as an exceptional achievement by the consulting engineering community, winning the 2016 CESA AON Engineering Excellence Award in the category “Projects with a value of R250 million and more.”

What makes Ingula stand out further is that it is somewhat of an exception in terms of hydropower generation capacity in South Africa. “As a water-scarce country, South Africa has relatively few opportunities for hydropower, which can only provide limited power to the energy mix. Other than pumped storage schemes, it is mostly small scale projects (less than 10 MW) that can be developed, and then only in some parts of the country,” comments Plichta.

“You need a consistent flow of water and a large elevation difference for traditional hydroelectric dams, which is why we opt for pumped storage in South Africa. For example, we’re currently working on a project in Sombwe, in the DRC, where the river’s minimum flow is 100 cubic metres of water per second in the ‘dry’ winter season. We don’t really get flows like this in South Africa, which is why most of our damand hydropower-related work takes place beyond our borders,” adds Jaco van Tonder, principal geologist at the Tshwane branch.

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