You already know that we live in a water-stressed country, receiving an annual rainfall of 492 mm, while the rest of the earth receives 985 mm. In addition, the WWF cautions that 98% of South Africa’s water has already been allocated to users, leaving little surplus water to cater for a growing population and increasing demand.
By Marcus Thulsidas, Director: Business Development, Utility Systems
In this context, could it be that prepaid water – like prepaid electricity – is the answer to more sustainable water consumption and management?
Well, we at Utility Systems believe it is. But there are five important things that South Africans need to know about installing prepaid water meters.
1. What is prepaid water?
Prepaid water means that the consumer purchases water credit in the form of a prepaid water token. When entered into the User Interface Unit (located in the consumer’s home), the token instructs the water management device to allow a certain amount of water through the meter before closing.
Consumers can track usage, load credit remotely, and decrease the possibility of bill shock due to leakages or incorrect monitoring.
A prepaid water meter can also be used to limit water flowing to a particular area. This helps municipalities and property owners to control the amount of water used at certain outputs and prevents wastage in low-income households that can’t afford to pay for excess use of this basic need.
They can make payment in smaller, frequent increments. This prevents their falling into debt, which can compound in a post-paid arrangement.
2. Who can access it?
This is completely dependent on the municipality. So even if you’re feeling inspired to install a smart water management device to enable prepaid water, you may not be able to – based on where you live or work.
That being said, most municipalities are beginning to embrace prepaid water management technology. So it may just be a waiting game. To find out your eligibility for prepaid water, it’s wise to approach your municipality and ask.
If you have a garden cottage, however, you can add an additional meter and smart water management device to the building, to ensure that your tenants don’t rack up huge bills in your name – and then refuse to pay, or leave.
3. How does it affectrental properties and body corporates?
The implications for rental properties and body corporates are significant.
Prepaid metering reduces admin to a minimum, while removing the risk and frustration of late or non-payment of water bills. This is why housing estates are swiftly moving to prepaid water, as they did with prepaid electricity.
Gone are the days of splitting the entire estate’s water bill by the number of units. Prepaid metering means that users pay for their consumption only.
4. What’s in it for municipalities?
Prepaid systems are cost-effective solutions to sustainable water management in that they have a low cost of acquisition and, by curbing water usage, capital recovery is possible within months.
The systems are also able to distribute water equally, based on free water quotas, water balancing and fluctuating demand.
Aside from their ability to alert municipalities to leaks, prepaid water meters also drastically reduce government’s admin costs. This is because municipalities don’t need to chase bad debts or budget for legal fees on unpaid accounts. Public sector cash flow is immediately improved.
Collecting data from prepaid meters is also more efficient than the manual collection required for post-paid meters. A radio link receiver can be fixed, vehicle-mounted, or carried by municipality personnel.
5. Is prepaid water cheaper?
No – this is a myth. Prepaid and post-paid water cost exactly the same. (It is illegal to sell municipal water above the municipal tariff rate declared.) That being said, prepaid water gives consumers the opportunity to monitor their consumption and react immediately to possible leaks.
The bottom line? Even the simplest smart water management device can provide the tools to track and control water usage. Prepaid water meters are smart tools with the potential to revolutionise water conservation efforts and revenue management worldwide. But it’ll be a while before every South African household is able to benefit from this enormous potential.