GHANA WATER COMPANY INTERVIEW: “Once people understand the value of water, willingness to pay for the long-run marginal cost of water may not be a problem.”

Richard Otoo, Ghana Water Company, African Utility WeekLet’s start with some background on Ghana Water Company’s activities in Africa.
Ghana Water Company Limited (GWCL) is a $4 billion utility company, fully-owned by the state with a staff strength of over 4 500. The company is responsible for potable water supply to all urban communities in Ghana.

GWCL currently operates 88 urban water supply systems throughout the country. Average production is about 192 million gallons (871 496m3) per day. Present potable water demand is estimated at 249 million gallons (1 131 818m3) per day.
Can you tell us more about your current projects in Ghana?
We are currently working on the following projects:
•    Establishment of a Telemetry System for Accra Water Supply System;
•    Installation of SMART ultrasonic meters for customers;
•    The development and implementation of a cloud-based billing and payment system for our entire Ghana Water customer base so as to allow mobile and digital payments;
•    Deployment of a full cyber-security infrastructure for GWCL; and
•    Network replacement and expansion.

What are the main challenges to working in this region?
•    Acceptance and adaptation to technological changes;
•    Environmental pollution due to illegal mining and farming;
•    The high cost of energy; and
•    Water theft (non-revenue water).

In your opinion, has Africa started to face the effects of climate change?
Not in the extreme, but the patterns of rainfall and temperature have changed slightly; resulting in inundations during the rainy season and subsequent increases in turbidity of our source water bodies. [Turbidity is the cloudiness or haziness of a fluid caused by large numbers of individual particles that are generally invisible to the naked eye, similar to smoke in air. The measurement of turbidity is a key test of water quality.]

To what extent is Ghana’s current infrastructure able to cope with the events brought on by climate change?
Unfortunately, most of the infrastructural systems were designed eons ago. The basic aim was to boost capacity and increase access to essential services. The cost of resilience and redundancy in complex systems were not favoured against cost of expanding infrastructure to allow equity and access due budgetary constraints.

What, in your opinion, are the alternative solutions for South Africa’s shortage of water?
A detailed study of resource options and availability would be a great way to start; how much yields will the aquifers provide (both in volume and quality); sea water reverse osmosis plants (desalination plants); and utilising energy recovery components to lower OPEX [operating expenses]. Going forward, I also recommend demand management and the utilisation of drip irrigation for gardening (taking into account crop water requirements).

Please share your thoughts on pricing a commodity, such as water that has always been in great supply (especially in South Africa) to a commodity that is suddenly in great demand?
In 1992 in Dublin, the world accepted that water has an economic value and should be recognised as an economic good, taking into account affordability and equity criteria. This instrument principle provided a guiding post for all countries to price water to achieve financial sustainability.

There should be full cost recovery and preferably reservations for future investments such as new treatment plants and technologies to avert the current issue that Cape Town is facing. Once people understand the value of water, willingness to pay for the long-run marginal cost of water may not be a problem.

What, in your opinion, would make the greatest impact to Cape Town’s water demand?
Technology and science.

How should the City of Cape Town work toward shifting the cultural behaviour of water consumption?
The issue is akin to the Diamond-Water Paradox (the paradox of value). People respond to incentives; and pricing will be one key way to drive change in people’s consumption pattern and behaviour – once a rising block tariff structure is instituted, people may utilise more water saving systems, recycle and reuse greywater and store rainwater (if it does fall).

What surprises you about this sector?
The mind set of consumers in terms of how they value water.

Why did you decide to partner with African Utility Week?
African Utility Week is the melting pot for all advances in utility management on the continent; there is nothing like it. For all industry players who want to understand the ascent of the current technological flight, it is the place to be. I call it the pilgrimage for utility players. We decided to be a partner to showcase our innovations; and get critical feedback while we expand our network to allow us to stay competitive in the age of connectivity, Artificial Intelligence and Big Data.

What will be Ghana Water Company's main message at the event?
Accounting for every drop: the impact of technology on a utility company in transition (the case of Ghana Water Company Limited).

Anything you would like to add?
We seek closer collaboration with other African water utilities to share skills and technology to provide the level of technological leadership the sector requires in this epoch of massive transformation to our planet and technology. We are in the blue age!

More about Eng. Richard Appiah Otoo:
Ing. Appiah Otoo is currently the Chief Technology and Innovation Manager for the Ghana Water Company Limited. He’s also a member of the following professional bodies: Ghana Institution of Engineers, American Society of Civil Engineers, American Water Works Association, Project Management Institute and a Commonwealth scholar in water management.