Tapping alternative water solutions

The sustainability reports of large companies are probably not widely read – at least by shareholders, who are probably more interested in the financial statements that reflect the profits (or losses) of a company’s endeavours.


How smart meters can save water in drought ridden Cape Town

The water crisis in South Africa’s Western Cape is cause for grave concern. Authorities are desperately trying to find new water sources, due to consumption not reducing to sustainable targets. In Cape Town and surrounds, users are limited to 87 litres per user per day. Dam levels are hovering around 34%, with around 10% of that not usable. In 2016, the dams were at 60%, and a few years ago at 100% and over at the same time of the year.

A key challenge affecting water consumption behaviour is the time lag between consumption and the related bill and the resolution of the information on the bill. It is difficult to know if one is complying with the 87 litres per day, and if not, why not. This is because water meters are usually read once a month, with a bill for specific consumption, for example a bath, usually arriving only a month or two after that water flowed through the tap. There is also a large disjunction between the single action of drawing water and the cumulative bill that arrives. This further complicates linking consumption patterns to resulting costs.

This way of billing is not only a South African phenomenon. Internationally, even in the United Kingdom, many homes either do not have water meters at all, or rely on manual meter readings. But in South Africa, it’s obviously more cause for concern, given the water constraints and recent drought.

Smart metering has the potential to address these challenges. Smart metering leverages recent advances in wireless and electronic technology to remotely record and report metering. It is mostly used for electricity and gas billing. Since water is such a basic commodity, it’s provided at such a low cost, occasionally even for free that it does not usually make financial sense to invest in smart water metering technologies for billing purposes.

Stellenbosch University have developed a smart meter that measures and reports water use by the minute. The objective, however, was not to perform billing, but to create awareness and to help people conserve water. This can be done through understanding how consumption patterns relate to water volumes used. Our thought was that users equipped with easy to understand water consumption information in real time will save more. We believed that the lack of behavioural change in water consumption is mostly because of a lack of knowledge instead of refusal to change patterns or lack of incentives.

But there are challenges associated with the smart meters. Since smart meters are normally used for billing purposes, and in some instances used to shut off the supply in a prepaid setup, they are generally not well received. Another challenge is that the information provided tends to be technical and not easy to understand. To overcome these challenges we set out to develop a solution that makes the information easy to digest, and to demonstrably show the behavioural impact of presenting this information to a range of consumers.

A smart meter that measures and reports water use by the minute.Author supplied

Creating awareness

They recorded the time from when a tap opens to when it closes an “event.” The first step to creating awareness, was to relate these events to specific times of the day, which allows the user to quantify specific water actions.

For example, the meter would capture a 75 litre event at 07:15 lasting for 4 minutes. From these events, the meter generates a daily itemised billing-type list of events for every day. This then allows the user to identify large or unintended events during the day. By relating the amount used to a money value, the user can associate a cost with each action.

But they don’t only make this information digestible for the general person. They break it down even more to make it understandable for little children at a local primary school using playing cards with usage information.

In addition to the meters being used to create awareness, these meters are a powerful tool when it comes to identifying infrastructure problems. They have used smart water meters to find leaks, bursts and to identify open taps and running toilets. Through automated text message and email notifications, the relevant people can be made aware of abnormal water patterns in an instant, allowing rapid response and significant savings.

Smart meters helped reduce the water consumption of a local coffee shop by 68% in one week. Author supplied


They have installed just under 50 of these smart water meters in the last few months. The results have been surprisingly positive.

In once case study on campus, they managed to reduce the water consumption of a local coffee shop by 68% in one week by only making the consumption information available online to the owner. We have seen similar results at homes, with reductions in consumption ranging between 40% and 60%.

But the biggest impact they have seen has been at schools. Through initial awareness and a swift response, significant amounts water was saved. An average of 16 kilolitres per school per day is already being saved at three local schools, with more opportunities for improvement. The monthly savings at one primary school is the equivalent of two junior teachers’ salaries.

In addition to the daily savings, the smart meters showed excessive water flowing when pipes bursts or irrigation systems were activated. By acting on this information within minutes, one school was able to prevent losses of around 1 million litres of water through a burst pipe in the middle of the school holidays.

If the schools in the Western Cape save a realistic average of 10 kilolitres per day, in excess of 15 megalitres would be saved per day in the province. That would be 13% of the target reduction.

The ConversationA key question is then maybe not how smart metering can be used to catch the bad heavy consumers, but rather how smart metering can be used to help those who need to do so.





New property fund provides solutions to cash strapped businesses

Old industrial buildings on city fringes are getting a new lease on life. Situated on major transportation routes for people and goods, they are being remodeled into modern mixed- use business centres in which clients share a range of free facilities to reduce the amount of space they require. Rentals are between 30% and 40% lower than in traditional retail and business nodes. 

Established in March this year and already with R550 million of assets under management, Inospace Property Fund has already acquired 70 000 sq metres of large mixed-use commercial real estate assets which offer flexible workspaces, light industrial, offices and storage spaces in Johannesburg and Cape Town, with another 35 000 sq metres scheduled for completion before the end of the year. .

With six branded business centres - one in Sandton, Johannesburg, and five in Cape Town -- Inospace recently completed the acquisition of three industrial buildings in Cape Town: the Island Centre in Paarden Eiland from Ascension Properties for R115m; the 12 500 sq metre Moirs baking powder site acquired from Pioneer Foods and the 20,000 sq. metre renamed Maitland Business Exchange from Investec Property.

“We’re moving into a shared economy,” says Inospace CEO Nicholas van Eeden.

“Operating a business is becoming extremely challenging. Economic conditions are tough and businesses have to keep a tight rein on costs but traditional commercial property nodes are becoming congested, expensive and under pressure due to residential conversions. Working from affordable modern work spaces with free shared facilities on the urban edge just makes good business sense for our clients.”

The aim, explain van Eeden, is to develop a commercial community among tenants, whom Inospace stringently refer to as clients, within each business centre. The group’s fast growing network is being promoted as a means to foster collaboration and trade. Inospace facilitates regular networking opportunities and communication channels in each centre, including a soon-to-be-launched app, that provides information on businesses operating in them.

“This is a major departure from the traditional landlord-client relationship,” says  van Eeden.

“We see Inospace not as a landlord or lessor but rather as a business enabler to our clients Each property has a full time on-site Centre Manager whose job it is to create and sustain an environment designed for growth.”

With prices of old industrial buildings relatively low, Inospace can afford to make substantial investment in remodeling its acquisitions and still be able to offer space at significantly lower rentals than in traditional business nodes.

“We have been attracting a lot of retail and office companies who are seeing the value of cheaper space in our mixed-use business centres. As the economy tightens users of industrial units are taking smaller spaces and rather using free-shared services that are built into fixed one-price rentals. This passes substantial savings to our clients” says Van Eeden.

Fibre and WiFi are embedded in all Inospace business centres. Shared facilities include a modern business hub with meeting rooms, fully equipped boardrooms, cafés, restaurants and pause areas. Each rented unit has its own electricity meter, enabling tenants to control their energy usage.

“Our business centres’ proximity to major roads and transportation networks is another key advantage,” says Van Eeden. “With retail coming under pressure, on-line shopping increasing and urbanisation pushing city limits, many companies need affordable centrally located space from which to combine their distribution, administrative, retail and office requirements”

With a growing list of businesses wanting to move into their newly refurbished centres Inospace seems to be capitalising on a growing international trend that has been identified by companies such as JSE listed Sirius Real Estate that owns 46 business centres in Germany.

The company’s latest Powder Mill offering on Sunset Circle, Ndabeni is currently undergoing extensive remodelling and is scheduled for occupancy in January 2018. According to Inospace the Powder Mill is filling up fast and they have already secured anchor tenants. Events and staging company Ampere Technology is relocating its head office to The Powder Mill where it will occupy 3 500 sq metres. The centre offers a combination of studios, offices, light production units and warehousing. 


Powering water solutions

There are increasingly audible murmurings that bold investment company PSG Group is backing Bellville-based Energy Partners to the hilt. PSG owns 63% of Energy Partners and has already pumped considerable capital into the business, which specialises in commercial and residential energy saving solutions.


Technicrete’s Armorflex provides a perfectly engineered solution for new Du Pont research facility

Technicrete’s Armorflex system was specified by both the architects and engineers for use on construction of the new entrance road to Du Pont Pioneer’s newly built research facility at Delmas, Mpumalanga. This product placement was due to the client’s requirement for a ‘Green’ Road that could blend in with the natural surrounds of the facility whilst offering suitable durability to traffic loading and environmental conditions with an impressive final appearance.

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