Water service authorities are seeing an increasing need to install water management devices to address growing water challenges. WASA speaks to Marcus Thulsidas, business development director, Utility Systems, about how the company’s smart electronic water control devices can assist utilities.

The internet of things (IoT) and automation are revolutionising the water monitoring and billing environment. What are the opportunities and advantages in Southern Africa?

MT  One of the market’s biggest pain points is the efficient management of the reticulation system. In many instances, there is not enough data to optimally use the resources available within a local authority for this task. There is a growing need for data to guide decision-making and streamline processes, and the move towards IoT and automation supports this.

Our advanced metering systems offer utilities many advantages, including advanced warnings and alerts on things like tampers and leaks, so that resources can be effectively distributed. Our solutions also aid local authorities with drive-by and remote meter reading and control systems. This not only allows for faster and more accurate data capturing, but also allows authorities to monitor infrastructure in high-risk areas where access is limited.

Accuracy is vital when it comes to data. We are NCRS approved to function with multiple brands of measurement elements and our measurement controls are of a C-Class nature, meaning they are accurate to within 2% on flows between 15 ℓ/h and 3 000 ℓ/h.

One of the biggest challenges for South African water utilities is accurate billing. How do Utility Systems’ products address this challenge?

Much of South Africa’s water billing systems rely on estimation, largely because of limited resources available to perform meter readings as well as inaccessible and unreadable meters.Our products – like the Water Management Device (WMD), utiliMeter and Aquadata – allow municipalities to perform unscheduled meter reading with drive-by, walk-by and remote systems. We utilise advanced meter reading (AMR) and advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) to deliver accurate data in near real time, providing municipalities with the most accurate billing data.

We tailor our solutions to meet the particular needs of each client. One of our largest clients, the City of Cape Town, is now using over 200 000 AMR-enabled devices to provide more accurate meter readings to its customers and ultimately increase its revenue.

How can this translate into increased revenue collection?

By reducing estimation with accurate data, municipalities can bill more accurately for water consumption. We also offer prepaid metering solutions with AMR data collection, ensuring municipalities get upfront payment and know exactly how much water is used at a particular point.

Utility Systems developed the first commercially available Standard Transfer Specification (STS) Association approved prepayment water management device. When linked to a pulse output water meter, the WMD enables two-way communication, configuration and valve control as well as the option for STS-approved prepaid water supply.

Our system also caters for free basic water requirements at a device level, meaning everything is managed by the device itself. It is able to dispense a predetermined amount of water daily at scheduled times, thereby providing the ability to limit a consumer to a finite level of supply. It also comes with a top-up option for those who wish to pay for additional water over and above their free allocation.

What about bulk water management?

The size of our solution offerings goes up to 50 mm. Our bulk metering solution, capable of time and volume switching, has been very successful in school environments where water consumption and losses need to be managed. We have implemented our bulk meters in several KwaZulu-Natal schools with great success. These are programmed to cut off supply between 17:00 and 05:00 to reduce losses from leaks and open taps, resulting in financial savings of up to 40% on the water bill.

South Africa is faced with a very high non-revenue water figure. How can your smart meters assist with leak detection?

Each device continuously monitors consumption. If there is constant consumption of over 5 ℓ/h for 24 hours, the device flags it as a possible leak and will send an alert out to a data concentrator or  the user interface of prepaid units. This allows users and authorities to take early action to address leaks.

Utility Systems is launching some exciting new apps. Please tell us about these.

We are very excited about our three new apps, which are now available for download from the Play Store for Android devices. These fresh and dynamic apps tie in perfectly to our various solutions.

The first is utiliRead, which provides an easy tool for reading meters, learning the route on which meters are to be read, recalling the route, and identifying unread meters and meters with an alert status. The app is perfect for drive-by meter readings and can be loaded on to the mobile device of the driver who collects meter readings by driving the set route. Data can be exported in text format for easy incorporation into an existing billing system. The City of Cape Town has just approved this app for city-wide deployment with an install base of over 200 000 devices.

Our service app, utiliPro, is an in-field management app that allows technicians to manage and configure water management devices in the field. utiliPro is currently being rolled out to approximately 500 terminals in Cape Town, as the first step in moving from AMR to AMI. This shift will, in the future, allow for the remote management, control and reading of all meters under the utility’s management. Lastly, our new consumer app, utiliApp, gives users the ability to monitor their own consumption, view their device status, load prepaid water credit and monitor their credit in areas where the local authority has adopted our systems.

How is AMI changing the metering environment and what are the benefits to both the utility and the customer?

AMI essentially offers an integrated system of smart meters, communications networks, and data management systems that enable two-way communication between utilities and customers. Globally, we are seeing more requirements for automation at end points, as utilities look to remotely diagnose and debug issues in the field.

Our new utiliMeter product is AMI-enabled to allow for bidirectional communication in near real time. This allows for the remote control, configuration and management of any utiliMeter on a fixed network, located anywhere, via the cloud or over a local private network.

It also includes all of our other functions and features like free basic water, AMR and prepayment, while significantly reducing the time it takes to get meaningful data such as tamper, leak and meter readings back to the service provider.

Some utilities still struggle with understanding and integrating smart metering. How can you simplify the integration process?

Most of our solution offerings are stand-alone and the data that we output is through an open platform, making integration into existing billing platforms fairly seamless. When it comes to data integration, we take the lead from the local authority on what their requirements are and advise them on the best approach for project deployment and integration. We also have an API available for municipalities to integrate into.

What can we look forward to from Utility Systems?

We are a dynamic, ever-evolving company. Our new AMI infrastructure opens up the African market and gives clients the opportunity to access locally manufactured, globally sought-after technology. There are not a lot of products available that can perform the same multicore functions as Utility Systems’ products at multiple levels. We are always looking at the pain points and challenges, and how we can adapt our technology to address these.