South Africa is a water scarce country, a reality brought to the fore by the spectre of ‘Day Zero’ in Cape Town, coupled with municipalities around the country that are increasingly under pressure to improve their revenue, operations and service provision to customers while cutting down on costly water wastage.
Fortunately for them, advances in connectivity, sensors (the Internet of Things), and the ability to analyse all the information collected, means that municipalities and private property investors around the country can turn to technology to improve the management of water infrastructure, water delivery, and customer service efficiency.
Currently, much of South Africa’s water billing systems rely on estimation, largely because of limited resources available to perform meter readings as well as inaccessible and unreadable meters.
The use of technology to address these issues goes back to the introduction of Automatic Meter Reading (AMR), which collects consumption data at predetermined intervals and automatically transmits it to the relevant utility for billing purposes.
Taking this to the next level is advanced metering infrastructure (AMI), which forms part of the shift toward creating smart cities. A system that integrates smart meters, communications networks and data management, it is a fundamental change that offers vastly expanded capabilities and will make a difference to the way in which utilities capture data, bill for usage, and interact with their customers.
Apart from faster, more accurate capturing of data – and resultant billing – municipalities further stand to benefit from early leak and fault detection; ensuring accurate water balancing across zones by using synchronised meter readings; being able to monitor infrastructure in areas with limited access; and getting alerts if the meter is tampered with.
Additionally, linking a water management device to a pulse output water meter enables near real-time two-way communication, configuration and valve control, as well as the option for Standard Transfer Specification approved prepaid water supply. These systems further cater for free basic water requirements, as well as providing the ability for customers to top up their water allocation – all managed at the device level.
This shift toward AMI means that technicians can now turn to user-friendly, mobile applications that allow for the remote management, control and reading of all meters under the water utility’s control, as well as giving them the ability to configure water management devices in the field.
Customers also stand to benefit with access to similar mobile apps allowing them to view meter charts and usage data, load prepaid credit or tokens, and get notification alerts for low credit. They can also remotely switch the water valve on and off.
According to the analysis done by the World Bank’s Water Resources Group, based on growth projections and current efficiency levels, it is anticipated that a water supplydemand gap of 17% will exist by 2030. This gap is critical, and if sustainable socioeconomic growth is to be envisioned, has to be dealt with decisively over this period.
The increased use of technology such as AMI by South Africa’s utilities will be crucial to bridging this gap and better managing scarce water resources.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Marcus Thulsidas is the business development director of Utility Systems, a smart water management solutions company. He played a fundamental role in the development of the first commercially available STS Association approved prepayment water management device in 2011. Marcus studied at the Durban Institute of Technology (DUT) and is a certified MCSD and embedded programmer.