IMESA takes an in-depth look into one of South Africa’s leading water and wastewater contracting companies.
SINCE 2002, WEC Projects (WEC) has been operating as a specialist contractor in the water and wastewater treatment industry. WEC Projects has emerged as a leader in its sector in South Africa. This is partly due to its biogas to energy project and in-house expertise in this area. It is clear that WEC is a very focused and well-structured company. The company is focused on its key objectives and prioritises its clients’ needs as a matter of course. For WEC, the main focus areas are: water, sewage, operation and maintenance, and biogas to energy. WEC maintains focus on these core areas by creating internal business units headed by some of the most competent professionals in the industry, allowing it to fulfil its mandate in each of these focus areas.
WEC can be departmentalised into the following business units:
- packaged solutions
- municipal solutions
- operation and maintenance
- biogas to energy. Each of these business units have a clear mandate to deliver to their clients in the respective segments. The formula is clearly successful as WEC has experienced impressive growth during the past five years. The business units are described below.
WEC defines its packaged solutions as a water or sewage treatment system that is modular and/or containerised and which is easily transported to site. Because WEC projects provides packaged solutions for both water and sewage treatment applications, it makes them the ideal one-stop shop for water and sanitation infrastructure and has been proven to be very successful in the mining environment. WEC has enviable process design capabilities and it is able to adapt most water treatment technologies and bundle it into a packaged plant solution. These technologies include lamella clarifiers, pressure sand filters, activated carbon filters, disinfection systems, complete conventional water treatment plants (which typically include a clarifier/ filter/disinfection configuration), ultrafiltration systems and reverse osmosis systems. This business unit is focused on the mining sector, industrial clients and the municipal sector where decentralised systems are a good fit.
WEC made the decision to enter into the bulk water treatment market three to four years ago in order to provide for the major utilities requirements. The decision made sense as the government needed to spend on infrastructure upgrades and WEC focused on ensuring that it became a front runner in terms of the provision of these products and services. The municipal industry is very different from the packaged plant industry and so the company decided to separate the two and create a separate business unit with a separate and clear mandate. WEC has recently been awarded and is currently implementing the projects in Welgedacht, Zeekoegat, Rooiwal and Temba. With many of these big municipal contracts it is wise to partner or form a joint venture with a trusted and complementary partner. Often it is the capacity of the project and the disciplines involved that dictates that a partnership must be formed. Fortunately, WEC has worked very successfully with a number of partners that can now be involved for turnkey projects on a bulk water treatment scale.
Operation and maintenance
Some time ago, the company identified that one of the major threats to the South African water sector is the operation and maintenance of our treatment facilities. It is a sad occasion to discover that the treatment plant you handed over to your client only a year ago has been effectively run into the ground, resulting in untreated sewage entering our streams and rivers. WEC’s operation and maintenance division was the result of this realisation and has been mandated to propose the operation and maintenance of all WEC plants as well as plants not manufactured and designed by WEC. For the latter, it is essential that these plants’ process design must be audited before WEC agrees to be involved. The same is true for the operation and maintenance of bulk water treatment systems which completes the loop in terms of what WEC supplies, as the company may have supplied the mechanical and electrical equipment that it now operates and maintains. Its operation and maintenance department customises a scope of work for the client based on the clients’ immediate needs, emergency requirements, scheduled maintenance requirements and budget.
Biogas to energy
Due to the increase in the cost of electricity in South Africa, industries and consumers alike are looking for alternative sources of power generation. There are various options available, including solar and wind power. Because WEC Projects is so entrenched in the municipal wastewater industry, and often specialise in work on the digesters at bulk wastewater treatment sites, it saw an opportunity to link its expertise with anaerobic digesters with power generation. By doing so, it is able to provide a significant value add to its municipal clients. So how does biogas to energy work? Simply put, sludge is produced as a by-product of a conventional biological sewage treatment process. This sludge is pumped to anaerobic digesters where it degrades and produces a biogas that is rich in methane. WEC takes this raw biogas through a filtering or “conditioning” process to remove harmful contaminants and then utilises the gas as a fuel in a gas engine that produces electricity. As a result of this, WEC’s municipal clients are able to subsidise their electrical costs by what they are able to produce themselves, utilising a waste material that now has significant commercial value. WEC Projects is pioneering this technology in South Africa and has, as a result, shown the way forward in terms of biogas to energy projects in the municipal industry.WEC has designed, supplied, installed and is currently operating the only known biogas to energy plant of its kind in the country.