The water crisis in the Western Cape is dire and a recent project by Professor Thinus Booysen, from the Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering at Stellenbosch University, has proven that smart meters have a crucial role to play in addressing the city’s water challenges. Some droughts can last for a lengthy period – between 10 and 12 years – with this in mind, and the City encouraging us to change behaviour and develop a new relationship with water, should innovation like smart water meters not be taken more seriously in an effort to bring about the behavioural change required?
Simply attached to a municipal water meter and using wireless and electronic technology, the smart meter developed by Professor Booysen and his team remotely records and reports metering via cellular, NB-IoT or Sigfox networks. The data is then conveniently made available through a web-based app, as well as through daily emailed reports. The smart meter also reports on unexpected or abnormal events such as leaking toilets and open taps by SMS.
As the drought intensifies, it is great to see the results of this real-time reporting technology making a meaningful difference, not only to the natural disaster the Western Cape is experiencing, but financially to one of the schools where the savings per month was equal to that of two junior educators’ salaries. Following the installation of a smart meter at Stellenbosch Primary School a few months ago, water consumption was reduced from 35 kilolitres per day to 11 kilolitres per day. Together with the savings from A.F. Louw Primary School, Stellenbosch High School and Hector Petersen Secondary School, a total average of 16 kilolitres per school per day is currently being saved – a clear indication that real-time, easy-to-understand water consumption information can in fact bring about water conservation and behavioural change.
According to Professor Booysen, enhanced awareness coupled with behavioural change invariably leads to substantial reductions, with as much as 68% observed. If the schools in the Western Cape save a realistic average of 10 kilolitres per day, more than 15 megalitres would be saved per day in the province. This amounts to 13% of the target reduction. Perhaps, in an effort to help consumers develop a new relationship with water, a key question the City should consider is not how smart metering can be used to catch water guzzlers, but rather how it can be used to aid them in developing a new relationship with water, ultimately making them more aware of their water consumption.
InnovUS, the University’s technology transfer office, has spun-off a company called Bridgiot (Bridge to the Internet of Things) which is taking the project further as a commercial venture. If you would like to get your organisation online with a smart meter, visit Bridgiot or Intelli Power and Water to view Stellenbosch Primary School’s dashboard.