Smart water solution helps schools save thousands

Every drop counts – not only when it comes to preventing water wastage but also saving the bank account from drying up. This is especially true for schools with already constrained resources and with limited tools available to affect savings.

Saving water and money at schools has been the focus of a project run by Professor Thinus Booysen and his team from the department of electrical and electronic engineering at Stellenbosch University. Through the use of smart metering technology, they have enabled schools, households and other institutions to limit water usage and minimise expenses.

Professor Booysen said there were already five schools putting the technology to the test by the end of August. He hopes that more schools can get involved as a lot of water can be saved, especially since the cost of water for bulk users in Stellenbosch has more than doubled since July.

The smart water meter is simply attached to a municipal water meter, and then reports into a web server via cellular, NB-IoT or Sigfox networks. Information is made available on a web app and through daily emailed reports. Moreover, notifications of unexpected events are sent by SMS and email.

According to Professor Booysen, after the installation of this solution, people become more aware of how much water they use. This awareness invariably leads to substantial reductions, with as much as 68% observed.

Shortly after the pilot project started at Stellenbosch Primary School a few months ago, their water consumption dropped from 35 kl. per day to 11 kl. per day. The savings each month is equal to the salaries of two junior teachers.

The moment there was a burst pipe at the school during the July holiday, an alarm triggered, the school was notified immediately and they were able to prevent an estimated loss of around 1 million litres,” adds Professor Booysen.

Jacques Horn, deputy principal at Stellenbosch Primary School, said that the meter really works well. “We have already saved a lot of water and everyone is more aware of saving water. We have even adjusted the water supply to the bathrooms.”

A further solution was to connect the water supply to the toilets with a timer control system. In this way, the water supply to the restrooms could be closed late afternoon and opened again the following morning.

The project champion at Eikestad Primary School, Dirk Coetsee, said that after the installation of the water meter, the school managed to save at least 3 kl. of water per day.

“We picked up there was water use over weekends when there was no one at school. Then we discovered a water leakage underground.”

Other schools like AF Louw Primary School, Stellenbosch High School, and Hector Peterson Secondary School in Wallacedene, have also come on board with the project.

The project is being commercialised by InnovUS, the university’s technology transfer office, and incubated by the Nedbank Stellenbosch University LaunchLab, SU’s business incubator, through a spin-off company, Bridgiot (Bridge to the Internet of Things).