The vision for the new Blythedale coastal resort, a luxury development on KwaZulu-Natal’s North Coast, is centred imvelo, a Zulu word for a collective responsibility for protecting the environment and living sustainably.

Blythedale Coastal Resort is a 1000-hectare “eco-estate” with three kilometres of Indian Ocean coastline and will, at completion in 2030, comprise some 4000 homes and a 1200-sleeper resort hotel complex. There are six branded villages within the estate, namely Blythedale Golf, Ocean, Beach Resort, Equestrian, Forest and Blythedale Hills.

Conventional golf courses are not known for sustainable practices – particularly around water usage for irrigation – thus a different design approach was required.

The estate’s developer, Elan Property Group, is no stranger to the KwaZulu-Natal North Coast or the complexities of establishing eco-estates, as the group was also the developer of Simbithi eco-estate, which lies between Ballito and Salt Rock. At Simbithi, not a single house emerged from the ground until the existing sugarcane crops and invasive alien species on the site had been cleared and replaced by extensive regenerating indigenous vegetation.

Blythedale is based on the same model. At Blythedale, the vision is driven by a collective responsibility for protecting the environment and living sustainably. In response to this, engineering consultants for the development Royal HaskoningDHV (RHDHV) introduced the concept of imvelo, a Zulu word that embodies this vision. It extends from each individual homeowner’s sensitivity and approach to the architecture of their houses and how they connect with the landscape, to the broader concerns of the greater community.

BULK SOLUTIONS

RHDHV was mandated to devise sustainable bulk service solutions for Blythedale. The team comprised four disciplines: urban development engineer Dominic Collett, who has 22 years experience in design and implementation, a process engineer and industrial water specialist, an electrical engineer, and a petrochemical (oil and gas) specialist.

The brief was “to be self-sustaining, move away from the traditional route of bringing in electricity and water, and to manage waste,” says Collett.

Elan development and sales director, Andrew Thompson, adds: “In addition, we needed to interact with the end-user – the buyer of a home. Our architectural guidelines now talk to a green technology palette with 17 options for the client to choose from and incorporate into their homes.” At least four of the following are compulsory: drip irrigation for the garden, a gas stove and water heater, solar PV, a greywater system and LED lighting. Other options are strongly recommended.

Thompson says solutions-driven thinking around the services for the Blythedale development was essential. “We couldn’t use borehole water for drinking purposes in the area. Research was done for Blythedale and the neighbouring development Prince’s Grant (which includes a hotel, golf course and residences), and we discovered that the draw of Blythedale’s 4000 new homes would drop the existing water table. Although bulk water schemes are being implemented in the area, the current drought has exposed the issues of water scarcity and the need for innovative solutions around water and sanitation.”

RHDHV had been on board for the first phase of 23 freehold sites. With new parameters exposed by the drought and power shortages, they stepped back to analyse the entire development afresh, map out the projected demand over the period until completion (2030), examine the restraints on bulk services, and develop a unique blueprint for energy, water and sanitation.

COMBINING INNOVATION

The team looked for a composite solution, where the three elements of water, electricity and sanitation would essentially feed off each other.

Process engineer and industrial water specialist, Marco Kersthold, explains the status quo in the region: “Ilembe district is experiencing a drought. The Lower Tugela scheme will provide the region from the Tugela River. The pipeline traverses the district from the north all the way to Ballito, which will have a certain amount of capacity for service development going forward. Previously, Blythedale had identified a desalination site as a water abstraction point, and had full environmental approval. We could choose desalination, but that always comes at a high energy cost.”

Kersthold examined the energy usage of the average household and identified morning and evening peak energy demand times. “The bulk electrical supply always has to take care of that peak scenario, and with conventional grid systems, there’s always a sizeable infrastructure cost. If you can deal with, or reduce those peaks, you can effect a massive saving.”

The challenge was how to solve the energy requirement so that desalination could become a sustainable option. What emerged was a gas and solar hybrid solution – essentially, solar panels will power the desalination plant by day when the sun is up. The clean water produced will be stored in reservoirs to provide the homeowners with 24-hour access to potable water. “Each home will have a solar panel to generate power,” explains Collett. “The solar panels will be connected so that the system can be optimised in terms of economies of scale – a homeowner won’t use his own solar power, but rather, the communal energy generated by everybody’s solar panels will be fed into Blythedale Coastal Resort’s grid to power the desalination plant.”

For cooking and heating, there will be a gas reticulation system. Each house receives piped gas from a central storage area for water heaters and stoves, thus reducing the reliance on electricity.

The RHDHV team says they’ve used each of these technologies and processes before, but in isolation. The key to this integrated solution was having a range of different disciplines working on the project. Tim Lahner, petrochemical market segment specialist, describes these solutions as “tested combinations of innovative technology”. The team stresses that the size of this development enabled them to take a holistic approach – it wouldn’t be cost effective on a small scale.

In terms of sanitation, Blythedale will have an on-site wastewater treatment plant with a waterborne sewer system.

The solid waste originating from homes will be separated on-site and transferred to a transit station before being taken off-site to a recycling plant.

THE 18-HOLE GOLF COURSE

Irrigation of the golf course comprises 30% of the entire complex’s water consumption and will be serviced with greywater from the homes. Furthermore, the treated effluent from the on-site wastewater treatment works will be reused as irrigation for the golf course. “It would not make sense – financial or otherwise – to use desalinated (potable) water there,” says Kerstholt.

In addition, stormwater from new hard surfaces will be captured in new six large lakes.

Specialist botanist, Johan Bodenstein from Indiflora, has developed a landscape protocol, which will be implemented by the appointed landscape specialist, Mark Young from Landscape Studios. Indigenous planting will surround the golf course, and alien vegetation, including sugarcane and gumtree plantations will be removed.

COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT AND EMPLOYMENT

The Dube Community’s 687 families totals some 4000 people. The expectation is that Blythedale’s community-based development will create 10 000 permanent jobs and 110 000 construction jobs.

Elan and RHDHV actively sought authentic ways in which the community can establish sustainable enterprises. RHDHV electrical engineer, Lynton de Waal, says: “Technology comes with maintenance – for example solar panels need on-going cleaning and maintenance of parts – and this creates a business opportunity.” Likewise, in the case of waste collection. “The volume of household waste provides a great opportunity for a local entrepreneur to establish a small business collecting it from a transit station.”

THE WAY FORWARD

The infrastructure and technology systems are currently being rolled out, and soon the site will be ready for the first house to be built. Importantly though, RHDHV’s overall design is flexible to future change. De Waal says: “It’s important not to box yourself into a corner because technologies are changing rapidly, and we need to leave room for other opportunities.” A good example is the solar panels, which don’t have batteries. “We understand that there’ll be far more affordable storage solutions in four years or so, so we’ve designed the panel installation with the potential to insert a battery underneath it at a later date.”

For Elan and RHDHV, the concept of imvelo at Blythedale Coastal Resort is an ongoing journey with endless possibilities to invent, adapt, rethink and perfect the blueprint for this eco-estate, which they firmly believe has potential applications in mixed-use developments countrywide. “Blythedale Coastal Resort could well be off the grid and self-sustainable,” believes Collett. “That’s the model we’d like to take forward to other developments.”

By  Anne Schauffer

See earthworks Issue 36, Feb-March 2017 for the full feature.