Sabesp – a smart water utility


An interview with Dr José Gesner de Oliveira Filho, President of Sabesp.

Please start by giving a brief history and overview of Sabesp.

Sabesp has been in existence for 36 years of existence. Serving 26 million people Sabesp is the largest water utility in Latin America and stands as a reference for the sector.

What metering and billing systems does Sabesp have in place?

In the towns served by Sabesp we provide 100% service on water connections, all equipped with water meters. These meters follow a very strict qualifying and   inspection standard to ensure the correct metering of consumption to our customers. Through these water meters our outside service technicians check consumption and instantly issue the invoice for payment, reducing processing and billing time. In addition, our technicians also provide customer service when they take readings by answering questions and clarifying doubts.
What customer service measures does Sabesp have in place?

Sabesp has several customer service channels. We have recently expanded our call center from 100 to 170 points so that our clients are attended to within 1 minute in 80% of the calls. We have also started an on-line service via Sabesp´s website and will soon be opening a new call center to serve inland and coastal customers in a centralized way.

To what extent are Sabesp’s systems automated?

Sabesp’s entire business and billing process is automated. The system of collection of readings and billing with immediate issue of invoices was started by Sabesp in the mid-1990s and became a milestone in Brazil. This system is now consolidated, allowing Sabesp to move further towards the automation of its processes such as telemetering.

Is water theft/non payment a problem and how does Sabesp deal with offenders?

Sabesp has smart systems to detect problems with theft, added to the deployment of equipment and devices to prevent these situations. We also have a channel of communication with the police hotline, in which any customer can report a theft of water and a police action will follow. Regarding non payment, routine actions are performed to ensure the company’s cash flow. But the main actions to fight irregular occurrences are based on environmental education and consumer awareness.

What measures does Sabesp have in place to detect leakage?

Sabesp has a daring program of losses control with clear diagnosis and actions. For apparent losses, related to micrometering, the company and its suppliers are engaged in the search for better solutions and innovations.

Has Sabesp considered water prepayment and/or smart water metering and is there potential for these technologies?

Sabesp has currently about 3,000 customers connected to the telemetering system. This is an innovative model, which has been recognized by several awards in Brazil. There are added services to the technology allowing customers to manage their water consumption. A customer may use the web to view their water consumption, which is updated every minute, in addition to alarm tools available via e-mail or on the phone SMS.

What are the key challenges facing Sabesp?

Our vision for the future: the globalization of sanitation services, especially sewage treatment; concessions contracts; transformation into a company of environmental services; corporate modernization with cost reduction; and making a technological leap through research and development.

What impacts are envisaged from climate change on water supply and delivery in São Paulo?

The loss control program has shown significant results in recent years. For two years in a row in the metropolitan region of São Paulo, the volume produced in our water treatment plants has decreased despite increased demand. This means that we are right on track.

What customer education does Sabesp do?

There are several environmental education actions focused on the social responsibility derived from this education.

Looking ahead what will Sabesp’s future network look like?

Sabesp is rapidly moving towards smart grids in the sanitation sector, integrating solutions for metering, controlled billing and operation. Some projects are in progress.