Titus“We need to find new and innovative solutions to old problems. It is simply not enough to do what we always did.”

Interview with Titus Cohen Kasie, Mechanical Engineer, eThekwini Water and Sanitation (EWS) & Centre of Expertise. During the water conference track at African Utility in May in Cape Town, Kasie will present on “How technology assists in EWS challenges”.

Tell us more about your position at eThekwini Water and Sanitation (EWS)

As of April 2016, I am currently employed as an Engineer in Training in the Commercial and Business Section within EWS. This job entails working with various renewable energy and energy efficiency projects as well as PPP agreements respectively. Within EWS, I am currently seconded from the Commercial and Business Department to the Centre of Expertise. In this department, I am the Deputy Project Manager for new and innovative projects starting within EWS.

What are the main challenges that your utility faces on a daily basis?

Our main challenges are aging infrastructure, lack of effective knowledge transfer, water shortages, reducing our costs and becoming energy efficient.

What long term sustainable solutions are you looking at to solve these problems?

Aging infrastructure

EWS is currently upgrading and expanding the majority of its treatment works. Planned maintenance and upgrades are being realised as critical components to the longevity of the operating networks. PPPs are currently being established to improve our service delivery and move the risk from the Public side to the Private side. This will take time to set up; however, if effectively done, it could provide the best possible solution from an operating and maintenance perspective.

Lack of effective knowledge transfer

Managers, engineers and supervisors are retiring and/or leaving the department at a fast rate, with them they take away the knowledge and skill that were previously available to the municipality. EWS has a programme where young technical staff are employed on contract with the end goal of achieving professional registration. This allows sufficient time for the younger staff to interact and learn as much as they can within the short space of time and make the transition from a junior level to that of a professional.

Water shortages

Although this is a problem that is fairly recent in the history of EWS, it is still of critical concern. We need to provide drinking water and proper sanitation of our community. Desalination is one of the promising technologies that we are looking at and is still yet to be confirmed at this stage. It is not enough to simply wait for the rain to come. For now better demand side management is needed and community awareness needs to be created in order to reduce the demand on the already constrained water networks. [Ed’s Note: South Africa is currently experiencing severe heat and drought conditions. The South African Weather Service explained that 2015 was the driest year on record (dating back to 1904) and it shows no sign of abating.]

Reducing cost and becoming energy efficient

Non-revenue water has been higher than 30% for quite some time. But, we are not always incurring the most cost in that sector of the business. The waste-water treatment process is highly energy intensive and can easily run into hundreds of kilowatts per month. A number of audits have been done throughout various EWS properties to identify high energy consumers and funding is being obtained to begin implementing these energy efficiency recommendations.

How important is technology in these efforts?

Not only is technology important, technology is the answer. It may be seen as costly to purchase new technology; however, this is only a temporary thought. If justified by a good enough payback period – the technology itself starts proving its worth immediately.

You have a few really unique projects with new technologies – please tell us more about the challenges and results

Majority of the innovation coming into EWS has never been attempted in South Africa before. This means that it is new to everyone in the sector. The challenge is to get our technical staff up to standard on the technology we want to implement as they are the ones who are directly involved in carrying out the actual work. Seeing as these designs are different it takes a little longer to get from inception to commissioning as we need to ensure the municipality has a proper roll out plan with maximum benefit to the community.

The results of the projects are not yet available. Our major installations have reached the end of the tendering stages and the smaller ones are in the midst of their trial periods. More promising data will hopefully be ready for the African Utility Week conference.

Are you collaborating with other municipalities?

Once the tendering stages are over we are free to share the information with other municipalities. Major cross over projects have not yet been done with other municipalities; however, one of the Centre of Expertise core functions is sharing and dissemination of results so that another municipality does not have to do the work again in isolation, but to allow them to learn from previously made mistakes and improve turn-around times on projects.

What surprises you about the water and sanitation sector?

The lack of education on the importance of our water resources and its conservation.

Tell us more about the work that you do for the Dutch Water Sector’s Young Expert Programme.

I was the first South African representative selected to be a part of the Young Experts programme. In this programme, I work with a group of colleagues from The Netherlands, Ghana, Uganda and Malawi to research Efficient Resource Reuse, in the form of trend analysis, within the respective water sectors. We determine early trends and patterns that are emerging and try to turn this into business cases. In return, we receive personal development and training from a team of mentors, coaches and sector experts. The Dutch government also provides some funding to help subsidise our existing work contracts with our employers.

What will be your message at African Utility Week?

We need to find new and innovative solutions to old problems. It is simply not enough to do what we always did.