Global warming and urban migration has exerted an enormous amount of pressure on the resources in many cities. This fast depletion of resources such as water calls for faster and firm actions from city authorities to improve the management of resources. Today, the City of Windhoek is facing high water shortages due to lack of rain over the last two years and high demand for the commodity caused by the increasing city population. In this article, we provide some solutions on how the City of Windhoek, towns and villages in Namibia can leverage on the power of technology to improve water efficiency, thus enable citizens to use every drop of water sparingly. A solution is the use of smart water meters. Smart water meters, are electronic devices that record consumption of water in intervals and communicates that information to a server for the home users to monitor their water usage, and enable municipalities to proactively identify leakages and accurately bill customers. How the smart water meter works, is relatively easy, as they comprise of a two-way communication between the meter and the central system (server).
The municipal clients can log into a the central system via their mobile phones to view the amount of water they consume in real time, thus gives them greater control on their household water usages.
By using smart meters, the municipality will no longer need to do manual readings of meters. Furthermore, the estimation of household water usages will no longer be a practice, as the municipalities will have real time, accurate data of water consumption for every household in their respective municipality. Smart meters do not only provide the benefit of accurate and real-time monitoring of water consumption but it also acts as a proactive mechanism against water leaks because the system will be able to identify water leaks before the water surfaces. Many local authorities are reluctant to adopt new technologies such as smart water meters in their respective municipalities and village councils because water provisioning is an important revenue generator for many of these municipalities. Just to ease some of their fears, smart meters have both digital and analogue water measuring components. Thus, smart water meters support manual water readings, which municipalities and village councils can use to validate the digital readings when there are any discrepancies.
Although seen by many as technologies for the future, smart water meters are being adopted by many cities in their efforts to combat urban water leaks and thus save water. In London, the Thames water (a company that provides water in London and around) has implemented smart meters since 2013 and hopes to migrate all their customers to the smart meters by 2030. Therefore, they help their customers become more water efficient in the region. Research suggests that metered users use water more sparingly than unmeasured users, due to the fact that users value more for what they pay and thus tend to use less.
The smart water meters automatically collect water usage data every 15 minutes, giving customers in-depth information on how much water they use, as well as more accurate bills. This is crucial in our efforts to save water, as customers will be reluctant to use more water than they can afford to pay. Smart meters are not only being used in affluent nations but they are also being adopted in some third world countries in Asia and Africa. In Asia-Pacific, we are seeing an increasing demand for smart water meters driven by the scarcity of water alongside ageing infrastructure and high urbanization. In countries such as Japan, Australia and Singapore with 100% access to water and sanitation, smart meters are being used to retrofit old water utilities. Meanwhile, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand are improving their water treatment and sanitation facilities using smart water meter solutions. In countries such as India, water scarcity is impacting the operations of many utilities; the sector is facing a huge challenge of cutting losses due to theft and ageing infrastructure. According to global market research company NorthEast Group, there is a high chance that India is facing way above currently noticeable water losses due to water theft. Thus, utilities such as Bangalore Water Supply & Sewerage Board (BWSSB) and Kerala Water Utility (KWA) have since November 2015 adopted IBM’s analytics technology to manage their water distribution systems.
And coming closer to home, Kamstrup’ smart water meters have been approved for water provisioning in South Africa by South African Bureau of Standards (SABS). This vouches that smart meters are credible, durable and provide accurate measurements. Today, smart meters are being used by some municipalities and being piloted in many others across South Africa including Johannesburg and Cape Town. According to Elser Kent Metering (a Johannesburg based metering firm), the installing of smart meters in Jansenville in the Eastern Cape has significantly reduced water leaks and enhanced the accuracy of water meter reading in the municipality. The successes of smart meters in other parts of the world are not going unnoticed in Namibia. During the second open data innovation hackathon, a group of innovators developed a mobile application that enable customers of municipalities to monitor in real time their water usages, thus giving them more control over their water usage. We are currently furthering this enquiry to practically illustrate how municipalities and village councils in Namibia can implement the smart meter technology. Thus empower them to curb water waste. Reliable data about water consumption is the only thing that counts. Furthermore, it can potentially be our only weapon to timely combat leaks in our cities, towns and villages. Therefore, it important that our municipalities do not become reactionaries but become more proactive, adopt smart meters to efficiently manage and save water, which is a scarce resource in our beautiful Namibia especially in our water-stressed capital city, Windhoek and the rest of the central region.