Advancing transparency and sustainability
How charity: water is using remote sensors to deliver more clean water than ever before
Starting in November 2015, we began deploying a groundbreaking new remote sensor technology in over 3,000 locations in Africa. These sensors measure water flow and transmit data that lets us know how well charity: water projects are working at any given time, anywhere in the world.
These sensors were funded by Google — and are part of our global effort to increase transparency and sustainability across the water sector. Knowing how our projects are functioning in real time is helping us keep water flowing for people around the globe.
Today, we’re receiving real-time data about water flow and functionality from thousands of hand pumps.
The sensors tell us how many liters of water are being used and when people are using the handpumps, something we have never been able to measure precisely before. The flow metrics also reveal fluctuations in water flow and consumption. If water flow appears to be decreasing, we can alert local maintenance crews and troubleshoot the problem.
This can help minimize downtime at water points when they need repairs. Before the sensors, remote locations often went weeks and sometimes months before getting repaired.
This technology is new, and it’s not problem-free. Sometimes, readings are off. But, errors are rare and we’re able to spot most of these anomalies and filter them out. We feel confident that the data we harvest is solid and that using it, in conjunction with regular site visits, will help more villages keep water flowing.
The sensors were designed for the most common hand pump in African villages: The Afridev
The sensors were designed with simplicity and durability in mind. They can be installed by any village pump technician with a standard wrench and a couple feet of rope. The process takes about 10 minutes to complete and the sensors are designed to transmit for up to a decade.
The sensors use a stack of six capacitance sensors to measure the physical level of water in the wellhead. We use this measurement to calculate how many liters are flowing per second through the pump.
The sensors will work on virtually any mobile network in the world, using GRPS, because the sensor has been equipped with a universal SIM card.
And all of this costs only about $105 per unit.
Our data is available to local governments and water bureaus, and enables decision makers to understand water use in their own communities with a precision never experienced before.
The data will also help us do amazing things like predict water point failures, identify overburdened water points, and understand the seasonal changes in access to water.
The more we know, the more effectively and efficiently we can serve these communities.
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Written By: Ameerah Siddiqi & charity: water