Sustainable water efficiency in the new normal
One of the sectors hardest hit by COVID-19 lockdowns was the commercial property sector. The impact was both immediate and likely to be felt in the medium- to long-term.
Hospitality and retail saw the greatest immediate impact while the office, industrial and warehousing sectors look likely to the see the effects of companies downsizing their office space as well as re-evaluating their business models to cater for the new shape of the local and global economy.
Ushal Moonsamy, Chief Solutions Officer at SqwidNet, comments that the experiences of the past year have taught them that life and business can change in a blink of an eye. “The other learning is that technology acceleration is here to stay and will play a larger part in everyday life due to the onset of remote working practices.
"Remote work practices and digital adoption are key drivers for the next wave of operations managements with remote visibility and proactive actioning at its core, especially for building management and field services teams.
“The demands for greater efficiency across the business spectrum is vital for business survival, but this requires that organisations have greater visibility into every aspect of their business. For many companies, including the commercial property sector, this means leveraging the power of the Internet of things (IOT) to provide visibility and control over all aspects of their operations.”
One area that companies in this sector are looking to optimise is water management. Moonsamy explains that there are two key drivers for this trend. “Firstly, this is part of organisations’ drive to become more sustainable. With corporate social responsibility becoming a standard rather than a competitive-edge, more and more companies are looking for greener and smarter buildings. Water use is a vital component of sustainability and for the longest time companies didn’t have the ability to monitor and control water usage on a granular level as water meters are usually in perimeter of properties, far away from a power source or data connection. As such, sustainability was focused on areas such as power consumption, and heating and cooling.”
She explains that with low-power technologies becoming available nationally, owners of commercial and industrial buildings have been able to gain better control of their operational spend through battery-powered smart water solutions that can last in the field between five and 15 years. These solutions typically pay themselves off in the first year.
“While many commercial properties have automation in place for systems such as irrigation, they are looking to leverage consumption management and early leak detection to create greener buildings."
This would allow building owners to implement a number of additional services that would enhance the sustainability of their facilities. These could include sub-metering – for example, charging tenants on a pay per use model rather than traditional per square meterage models, automated identification of leaks – allowing them to be resolved immediately, as well as leveraging artificial intelligence to gain visibility into usage trends and billing, driving change in behaviour for a sustainable future.
Delivering these capabilities would rely on a network of connected sensors to deliver the data to the systems providing insight to building managers. Moonsamy comments that the key benefits from embracing IOT in the management of water include lower operating costs, better tenant experiences, new charging models and the opportunity for greater innovation in the sector.
Collaboration offers broader benefits
There are additional benefits beyond the more immediate operational efficiencies that can be exploited by the use of IOT services. This includes greater integration between consumers of water and suppliers – in this case the municipalities.
“Should the municipalities and the commercial property sector be able to use a single system and thus share their data, not only would this save them costs of deployment, it would also give them common visibility so they can resolve issues faster. Since the system benefits will be shared by both parties, in terms of improved billing for municipalities and better control for consumers, shared responsibility can apply. Doing things differently is required to drive sustainability of precious resources such as water.
“Water leaks are a critical challenge for water suppliers across the globe and being able to identify and resolve them quickly can minimise the wastage of this scarce resource.”
She proposes that innovative reward programmes be implemented, as these have worked well in other industries in South Africa.
Another area where collaboration could help both parties is in the monitoring of water quality. With sensors able to monitor the pH and composition of water contamination could be detected and shared with both the water users and immediately reported to the municipality for investigation.
In South Africa, water conservation needs to be a focus of all sustainability efforts. There are also real opportunities to leverage the power of data to cut wastage, reduce cost and improve operational efficiency. “Even starting small there are benefits to be had, and with the technology we have available today, this is something that all companies can benefit from,” Moonsamy says.