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CPCS intern: My experience leading a solar desalination initiative

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Georgia McCutcheon | June 4, 2020

Spotlight on inspiring CPCS interns: Meet Georgia McCutcheon, MSc student at Western University’s Ivey Business School.

The highlight of my internship was laying the groundwork for a series of solar desalination projects in Sub-Saharan African communities in need of clean water.

My ideal career? One where I can have a positive development impact on emerging markets and less developed countries. 

That’s why I chose to intern at CPCS, a global management consulting firm in the infrastructure sector. CPCS has improved transport networks and power generation, transmission and distribution in more than 130 countries. It used public-private partnerships to realize many of these projects. CPCS seemed like a great platform for me to make an impact. 

My internship was with its Power Advisory team. They deal with everything involving electricity and energy. At the time of my joining, they were about to launch a series of solar desalination projects in Africa. 

These projects also involved a group committed to infrastructure development. This joint effort made sense, given the nature of the task. 

Rob Graham, Global Director for Power, was an incredible mentor. He supported me as I led a number of projects, including this one.

Taking the lead as project coordinator 

Unlike usual consulting work, early stage project development means starting from scratch. In our case, this means selling solar desalination to the African continent.

While it can be an affordable and sustainable way to provide drinking water, it’s not very common there.

In fact, solar desalination can be seen as innovative. It’s not like gas-powered desalination, which uses a lot of energy and can be very costly.

Using solar power to treat salt water is much cheaper. Who doesn’t want high quality water at an affordable price? The money saved can then be used to improve communities. 

Easier said than done, though. 

Locating the best project sites and making sure the projects were feasible was difficult. For instance, the data for water quality and existing infrastructure was limited. The lack of distribution infrastructure, such as grids, reservoirs and navigable roads, made our assessment more difficult as well.

We solved these issues by working with smart local partners.

Their local know-how allowed us to do two things:

  • Find the most ideal project sites for solar desalination
  • Locate the areas in most need of clean water

During this project, I had the chance to:

  • Assess legal and regulatory frameworks in Sub-Saharan regions 
  • Gauge how suitable solar desalination is in areas of interest
  • Evaluate whether the projects are financially viable 
  • Engage potential partners and create partnerships
  • Work with technology providers and operators

Purposeful and meaningful work

Although my internship at CPCS has concluded months ago, the consulting experience has left me a lasting impression.

  • It honed my skills in project management
  • It introduced me to financial structuring and business models for utilities

In addition, I’m grateful to the CPCS team for helping me create concrete development impacts during my time as an intern.

I’m currently enjoying my International Business program at Ivey Business School, and I can’t wait to resume my career working in emerging economies.

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