Technology – SA’s water lifeline
South African companies collaborate to create intelligent solutions for the growing water crisis and ongoing climatic change.
South Africa is a semi-arid landscape with minimal rainfall and a long history of water management challenges and complexities. The country is facing a crisis, one brought into focus by the recent Cape Town water shortage, which has to be addressed.
While the Department of Water and Sanitation is focused on bringing about the realities outlined in its Water and Sanitation Master Plan, South African organisations are collaborating to create inventive answers to the questions that climate change, water quality and water scarcity bring to the table.
“South Africa’s social and economic development is being held back by water shortages and lack of access to quality water,” says Phathizwe Malinga, Managing Director at SqwidNet. “On top of this, our inability to collect all the due revenues for the water supplied cripples our municipalities' ability to provide other basic services as well. We need to find ways of managing the water resources we have more effectively and overcoming the challenges of limited infrastructure and investment. This will have the knock-on effect of protecting this precious resource from misuse and ensuring that there is improved water security for the future.”
Loss of revenue from poor water management and leakages makes the situation even worse. According to the Department of Water and Sanitation’s National Water and Sanitation Master Plan, 41% of municipal water doesn’t generate revenue, while 35% is lost to leakage. Municipalities are losing around 1 660 million m of non-revenue water every year at the cost of R6/m. This equates to about R10 billion in lost revenue annually, money that could be well spent on improving water infrastructure, access and education.
Not having access to clean potable water has even more dire consequences on South African citizens. Communicable diseases like malaria and cholera are on the rise again.
It has become a priority to find solutions that improve water management capabilities and allow for municipalities to provide better basic services from a better control over revenue.
This is precisely what Inzalo Utility Systems has done. The company harnessed the intelligence of the Internet of things (IOT) and the reach of Sigfox to create a device that’s focused exclusively on improving and streamlining water management. It’s designed to detect leaks, manage payments, control water flow, and transmit data across all types of environments.
“It’s a truly smart water management device that combines the basics of prepaid water metering with flow limitation controls and water loss prevention tools,” explains Sbonelo Mazibuko, CEO of Inzalo Utility Systems. “The AquaFlow, one of our next generation of Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) solutions, can transmit data wirelessly to municipalities or water service provider databases and receive commands remotely.”
The AquaFlow uses Sigfox technology, and is now therefore part of the French giant’s global network that spans 70 countries and connects millions of low-power objects, allowing them to transmit crucial data to their relevant organisations. Sigfox enables an open access IOT ecosystem that is ultra-low-cost, and the network is operated by Sqwidnet in South Africa. With more than 1 000 base stations in South Africa, it currently provides over 90% coverage across the population. SqwidNet offers an impressive network that helps to bypass the power limitations of infrastructure and remote locations for organisations looking to harness the capabilities of technology and IOT.
“By using Sigfox to communicate data and information to the municipalities or water service providers, the AquaFlow is leapfrogging existing infrastructure and connectivity limitations. It also keeps the costs down, as Sigfox is inexpensive and has low power demands,” explains Malinga. “The network is a reliable solution that plays a big role in driving IOT adoption both locally and abroad. This is not only relevant in terms of improved water management, but also in terms of any IOT solutions that can help people and companies bypass the limitations of infrastructure and geography.”
The AquaFlow improves meter interrogation and service provider control. It can retrieve accurate meter readings, transmit meter usage, be configured to operate within specific parameters and be used as part of an STS approved prepaid token system to ensure users pay for the water they use. The solution is designed to last 10 years or more in the field without needing to change its batteries, dependent on the frequency of bidirectional communication with the meter. It still has replaceable batteries, though, to ensure ongoing longevity that can be measured in decades. In short, it can be used in almost any location – rural to the desert to the city – and it can be easily implemented by municipalities so they can gain richer, actionable insight into water usage and expenditure.
“The solution is designed to minimise water disruption and loss while maximising management and revenue collection,” says Mazibuko. “It’s an innovative and simple solution to some of the big challenges that the government faces.”
“Finding the right solution requires collaboration and partnerships,” concludes Malinga. “It needs the innovative thinking of the South African entrepreneur and the use of technology that can handle the complex South African environments. This is a country that demands solutions that can cope with rural areas, limited infrastructure, poor connectivity and harsh climatic conditions. You have to build them in South Africa, for South Africa.”
While the AquaFlow isn’t going to fix all the water problems that affect the country, it’s a solid step in the right direction. It underscores the need for innovation within both the private and public sectors to find long-term solutions that can overcome South Africa’s challenges while driving economic growth and social inclusion.