Ushal Moonsamy: Plumbing the depths of IoT

South Africa is considered a water-scarce country. This is hardly a surprise for those who live in Cape Town and have endured drought conditions that edged the city towards Day Zero (when the city would run out of water to supply), or for farmers who’ve struggled with yield and water scarcity, or for people who live with crippling thirst, every day.

Water is a finite resource that’s finally getting the global attention it deserves. It remains one of the United Nations’ top sustainability goals and is consistently a focus of environmental discussions and focus groups.  And yet there are often leaks and water pipe breakages that impact on water supply and water levels. Avoidable, preventable leaks that come about due to weak infrastructure and lack of insight into maintaining that infrastructure sustainably.

“A plumber is a trusted ambassador of water intelligence who can make a huge difference to water conservation,” says Ushal Moonsamy, Chief Solutions Officer, SqwidNet. “They are at the forefront of the challenges that influence the industry, the issues of infrastructure and the problems faced by consumer and business when it comes to unplanned leaks or loss.”

There are three core pillars currently dominating the conversation in the plumbing industry – the access to technology, the need to change societal behaviour, and the critical water situation. Plumbers have become key in driving water sustainability goals, leveraging new business models, and helping deploy smart water solutions, powered by the Internet of Things (IoT), to the South African market.

“IoT is the true enabler of data-driven decision-making by providing real-time information from assets that couldn’t be connected to the Internet before,” says Moonsamy. “So how can it make a difference? By providing information you can act on. It is guaranteed that almost every property has, or will get, a plumbing-related issue at some point in its life. Where the property is monitored by IoT, plumbers get an early notification as soon as the problems start, usually even before the homeowner realises. This is hugely relevant even in industrial and manufacturing businesses where water supplies and failures can have expensive, environmentally damaging, consequences.”

This shift to proactive insights in plumbing changes the plumbing model completely. It allows for the income model to become annuity-based, built on maintenance and innovation as opposed to emergency-based. An annuity-based model means a plumber can provide a better service to a homeowner, with just-in-time maintenance, and real-time visibility for both the plumber and the homeowner. This results in fewer water interruptions and a lower water bill. The deeper knock-on effect in South Africa could potentially allow for improved job security and more job opportunities, a much-needed boost in a country that suffers from high levels of unemployment.

“By blending the expertise of the plumber with the potential of technology, suddenly this profession becomes key in driving water sustainability goals, reducing water costs, improving water use and so much more,” adds Moonsamy. “SqwidNet provides a low power network that covers over 90% of South Africa’s population and this, for the first time, is allowing us to connect water meters to the Internet using batteries that can last over 10 years. This makes the solution ultra-low cost. These connected water meters can detect possible leaks as they happen, reducing damage to property and reducing bill shock. In Cape Town connected water meter deployments, it has reduced water usage by up to 20%.”

The simple expedient of a low power network and connected water meters can instantly transform water control and management across the board. These battery-powered devices can even be retrofitted to existing water meters, reducing the need of having to remove existing water meter infrastructure. And it can be applied across numerous use cases from pool pumps to industrial pumping stations, and from commercial to residential estates.

“We have collaborated with many existing water technology partners in South Africa to create smart water solutions that address the water distress situation we currently face as a country,” says Moonsamy. “The solutions are cost-effective and easy. Users can view their usage and leak status on their mobile phones, set themselves water-saving targets, and even look at historical usage.”

The SqwidNet ecosystem provides a network that is ultra-secure and Sigfox Ready™ devices, like these connected meters, are hack-proof and jam-proof. On top of that, plumbers have access to technology seminars and training programmes designed to upskill their usage in IoT smart water solutions, and the opportunity to expand their skillset and businesses.

“We have great, appropriate technology; we have a great open access ecosystem; and now, we have great plumbers that are innovating and creating new offerings that will not only change how they operate but contribute to South Africa’s water sustainability goals,” concludes Moonsamy.

Ushal Moonsamy is the Chief Solutions Officer at SqwidNet.