Last year, Cape Town, South Africa, ran out of water. It was on the verge of reaching Day Zero, a complete shutdown of municipal water supply. Fortunately, that didn't happen as the city managed to impose severe restrictions on water supply and use. Water experts say many cities across the globe are going the Cape Town way.
India is no exception. Delhi, Bengaluru, Chennai and Hyderabad are among the 21 cities that will run out of groundwater by 2020, affecting at least 100 million people, according to a NITI Aayog report. Water conservation and management are an urgent need, and that's where Chennai-based start-up WEGoT Utility Solutions wants to make an impact - by helping manage water infrastructure of building complexes and reducing water use by 50 per cent.
Founded in 2015 by four engineers - Vijay Krishna, Mohamed Mohideen, Abilash Haridass and Sundeep Donthamshetty - WEGoT has developed VenAqua, a sensor-based Internet of Things (IoT) device and a software platform that can be connected to water inlet pipes. "Growing up in Chennai, which is known for acute water shortages, we wanted to contribute to help the city solve its water shortage. We understood that IoT will be the saviour," says Haridass, Chief Marketing Officer of the start-up.
Before setting up WEGoT, in 2007, Krishna and Mohideen had founded an electronics original design manufacturing company Denvik Technology. Donthamshetty used to work as a programme manager at Ford Motor Company, while Haridass worked with Cisco. Krishna is the CEO and looks after the product, Mohamed handles operations, Haridass is responsible for marketing, and Donthamshetty heads the IT division.
"Traditional water meters are from mechanical companies and are turbine-based solutions that cannot detect air passing through pipes and drop leakages. We are trying to solve this using technology," explains Haridass. At present, the company is targeting residential apartments and commercial buildings such as IT parks. VenAqua's water management system checks instances of water theft and inlet water quality.
Sensors installed in individual apartments track water usage and gives daily reports. They also detect leakages, abnormal water usage and inefficient water infrastructure, and informs users and facility managers in real-time. Once a notification is raised, the user can arrange it to be fixed. The software tracks usage patterns, which helps the building owners know the water required to be stored in tanks.
VenAqua also helps generate usage-based water bills. "At present, most building complexes have flat charges for water. VenAqua tracks usage of every apartment and bills each resident accordingly. So, people who use less water, pay less," says Krishna.
In many buildings, a lot of water gets wasted due to broken toilet flushes, which go unnoticed. If this happens, in just eight hours, more than 1,500 litres of water is wasted. To prevent such situations, VenAqua sends instant messages to the user if, say, a tap is on for more than a few minutes. "This not only saves a huge amount of water but also also encourages less usage," says Krishna.
Appaswamy Cityside, a residential complex in Chennai, has benefitted from VenAqua's system. "We have 136 families in our apartment complex. Three years back we installed VenAqua to track our water usage and reduce consumption. Now we are able to conserve a lot of water, stop all leakages and our usage has dropped almost 50 per cent (from 2.8 million litres per month to 1.6 million litres in three years)," says Kamal Nizar, former secretary of the apartment block.
The question is whether the system is flexible. "Our solution is compatible with existing plumbing methods and can also be customised," says Krishna. The company has two sales models: in the capital model, the user buys the entire solution (around Rs 6,000 per water inlet), and in the subscription model, the company deploys the solution and users pay a monthly fee of Rs 150 apart from installation charges.
VenAqua has clients in seven southern cities and has installed its solution in 75 buildings. The initial investment was bootstrapped as all four co-founders invested Rs 25 lakh each. The company is looking for fresh funds and is set to close a funding of $2 million. Last year, it reported a revenue of Rs 8 crore and expects to clock Rs 18 crore by the end of this year. It is also expanding to Delhi, Mumbai, Ahmedabad, Pune and Kolkata this year, and exploring the possibility of entering West Asian countries. "Water conservation will be a major issue in coming years and we have an immense growth opportunity," Krishna signs off.
K.T.P. Radhika is a freelance journalist based in Chennai