The African smart metering experience | Infrastructure news

There will never be a business case for water and sanitation services unless there are massive changes. These changes also need to be evidence-based and advanced metering infrastructure provides an excellent means to holistically improve these services.

By Kirsten Kelly

The SWAN Smart Metering Workshop in Cape Town provided insights from global and local experts about the benefits and challenges around smart water metering. An interesting panel discussion covered the African smart metering experience, with insights from Ghana, Namibia and South Africa.


As a fully owned state entity, the Ghana Water Company supplies water to over 30 million people and produces 320 million m3 of treated water per annum. Technology and innovation are being used to improve efficiencies.

Traditionally, the entity used turbine mechanical water meters that presented a multitude of issues. They were easily tampered with, causing a huge disparity in what the Ghana Water Company could bill versus what the Ghana Water Company would supply. Many of the mechanical meters were manufactured with brass components, which resulted in theft of the meter and huge water leaks.

“This has a negative impact on the Ghana Water Company in terms of revenue collection, the cost to replace the meters as well as the water leaks. We therefore decided to use meters that did not have any moving parts and relied on ultrasonic or magnetic technology. We found that the level of accuracy improved, and the lack of metal components reduced the level of theft. The new, smart meters also have an IP68 rating and are more robust, ensuring a likelier return on investment,” explains Richard Appiah Otoo, chief operations officer, Ghana Water Company Limited.

The accuracy of mechanical meters was adversely affected by subpar water quality. Ghana’s high rainfall pattern and occasional floods together with excessive dust particles (from the Sahara Desert) would also often break the mechanical meters.

The Ghana Water Company conducted a number of pilot projects and then later scaled the roll out of smart meters. “With the roll out, we found that the biggest obstacles to change were some of our own employees. The water meter readers were at times receiving bribes to record lower readings and then sowed discontent amongst water users by stating that the smart meters would record higher readings,” adds Otoo.

However, the Ghana Water Company had sent all smart meters to the Ghana Standards Authority where its laboratory confirmed that all meters were compliant. This proved that the entity did not have an unfair advantage.

One smart water meter pilot project showed a 44% increase in water consumption figures. Readings were also taken at district level to confirm the volumes of water entering the district. This then assisted with non-revenue water calculations.

“Our adoption of smart water meters has been so successful, that the regulator approved a line element within the tariff to be allocated towards the purchase of smart meters. Today, our billing systems sits on the cloud and there is a seamless flow of data from the meter to billing system. This eliminates all meter reading inaccuracy, data handling errors and on accurate data,” states Otoo.

However, there are still areas where meter readings have to be taken manually (called the drive-by network). There are places that are difficult to reach, either due to difficult terrain and flooding or because resident threaten the meter readers. In these places, Ghana uses a drone to take meter readings.

The entity is also partnering with the World Bank on developing performance-based projects. These contracts involve specialised private companies in managing and reducing water loss.

“A decade ago, our non-revenue water was at 56%, we have reduced this be 20%. Most of this has been achieved internally, emphasizing the importance of building internal capacity,” says Otoo.


A state-owned entity, Namibia Water Corporation is a bulk water supplier, with its customers ranging from local authorities, regional authorities, individual households, various industries (agriculture, mining, manufacturing) as well as government buildings like schools and clinics. Namibia Water Corporation supplies the entire country, which has arid conditions.

“We have been using mechanical meters for many years, but the increase in population and water demand have put them under excessive pressure. We have received inaccurate readings, and this has resulted in billing issues and unhappy customers. Our water meter readers have to cover a large area to obtain water readings and if they are absent from work for a few days, there is a huge backlog, causing us to estimate meter readings. We have also experienced theft and vandalism of water meters and have noticed the impact that poor quality water has on the meters. This is particularly true for groundwater where calcium carbonate often clogs mechanical water meters. There were also customer complaints relating to broken air valves of the mechanical meters whereby many of the meters would read the air going through the taps,” states Dr Johannes Sirunda, acting chief scientific officer, Namibia Water Corporation.

Namibia Water Corporation is now using pre-paid meters for their bulk water systems in order to prevent nonpayment. “This has been working very well, aside from some political interference. We have realised though that if we install prepaid meters on the bulk water side, improvements should also be made on the distribution side. If local and regional authorities have meters that have been tampered with, they are less likely to pay us, and therefore we lose a lot of the advantages of upgrading our own meters,” adds Sirunda.

Prepaid water meters have also been installed at the entity’s individual customers. However, Sirunda notes that there was not sufficient consultation with these customers and there has been a high level of resistance and vandalism on the new system.

The entity has recently completed a pilot project of using handheld meter readers to take readings of their mechanical meters. They collect data from water meters quickly and accurately without the need for manual readings. This eliminates any inaccuracies and the potential for meter readers to take bribes and record lower readings.

Namibia have developed procedures on how to handle unsolicited proposals in terms of their Procurement Act. This will help Namibia Water Corporation in driving innovation, especially with the adoption of AMI technology.

Johannesburg Water

Johannesburg Water is a municipal entity, with the City of Johannesburg (CoJ) as its sole shareholder. It supplies 1.6 billion litres of potable water per day, procured from Rand Water. Johannesburg Water treats 909 Mℓ per day of sewage at its six wastewater treatment works (WWTW). With a population of 6 million people and close to 2 million households, CoJ has over 550 000 customers.

“We have piloted the roll out of various smart meters. The problem is that this is done purely from a technology point of view and there is no consideration of the entire value chain like contracting, the supply of these meters as well as maintenance. While the data looks good, it often very difficult to do business with the supplier if the whole value chain is not considered,” says Zakhele Khuzwayo, manager: Innovation and Technology, Johannesburg Water.

He adds that there is a misalignment between the buyer and the seller, with the seller often doing very little background work. There needs to be a basic understanding around the Municipal Finance Act, the policies around contracting and request for information.

“Fundamentally, we can talk about AMI all day, but we need to prevent the vandalism and theft of these meters. Currently we are exploring technologies that can be tamper proof. We need to make sure that we can secure meters that we install. “


The South Africa Local Government Association (Salga) comprises over 257 municipalities, of which 144 are water service associations (WSA) and are responsible for ensuring water access.

The top six challenges that WSAs are facing in the country are:

  • Financial asset management
  • Infrastructure asset management
  • Wastewater treatment
  • Revenue collection
  • Operations management
  • Water conservation and water demand management
“A huge problem experienced by municipalities when trying to tackle these challenges is a lack of budget. They are not collecting revenue from the water and sanitation services provided. It is difficult to provide a sustainable service when there is very little revenue collected,” explains Lubabalo Luyaba, water and sanitation specialist, Salga.

There is, however, good news. Along with the tabling of the 2024 budget in parliament, the National Treasury announced the R2 billion grant that will be distributed over the next three years to fund the rollout of smart prepaid meters by municipalities.

Luyaba reiterated Khuzwayo’s comment on the misalignment between the buyer and the seller. “To add to the complexity, it is also sometimes difficult to benchmark with municipalities as while they are similar, they are often unique in terms of their needs, technical capabilities and budgets.”

He adds that legislatively, a compliance culture has been created in South Africa where municipalities are fearful of being innovative as there is a lot of criteria to meet and if one box is not ticked, they are accused of wasteful expenditure. Therefore, many municipalities prefer to play it safe. “There is a misconception that municipalities are resistant to change and innovation. This is not true,

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