Construction of South Africa's largest liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) storage facility will start early in 2013 and the plant will be operational in late 2014, the project director said on Thursday.

The project, aimed at reducing shortages of liquefied petroleum gas in the country, will cost about R1,2bn, with imports coming from the Middle East, Gulf of Guinea and Angola.

"We will be commissioning the facility at the end of December 2014," said Barthlo Harmse of Sunrise Energy, the company developing the site next to the Saldanha Bay port on the west coast. Sunrise Energy is a joint venture between Ilitha Group and the state-owned Industrial Development Corporation (IDC).

South Africa is diversifying its energy mix away from electricity to alleviate pressure on state utility Eskom, which is operating on razor-thin capacity.

An estimated 3% of the country's 49-million people use liquefied petroleum gas and the intention is to have an additional 1-million users over the next five years.